Committee discusses need for more medical professionals in city

March 26, 2014 • Local News

A new committee convened Wednesday, brought together by Mayor Dennis Kintigh, that aims to provide solutions to medical care challenges in Roswell.

Several physicians and administrators of local hospitals and health care groups met at City Hall to begin discussing critical needs, including the shortage of primary care doctors.

Retired nurse and community leader Jane Batson facilitated the committee. A similar group was in place during former Mayor Sam LaGrone’s term in office.

“I think the majority of us who sit around this table are action people who want to get this thing moving,” Batson said.

Representatives from Lovelace Regional, Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, Kymera Independent Physicians, and private physicians chimed in with several ideas about how to improve care within the community.

Ideas included eliminating the “no compete” clause between medical facilities. As the situation exists today, if a local physician wants to leave one practice for a certain reason, he can’t [auth] stay in the community. That doctor or practitioner cannot work for a competing medical group because of the “no compete” restriction.

Therefore, the city loses physicians each year, one participant from Kymera pointed out.

Kintigh said he has considered the idea of whether the city could assist with the issue.

“I have actually toyed with the idea and thought whether or not we could pass a city ordinance,” Kintigh said. “I still need legal advice.”

Jerry Harrison, executive director of New Mexico Health Resources, spoke to the committee about recruiting medical providers and medical school graduates looking for residencies. NMHR is a state-funded program that helps recruit health providers.

“The best recruits — the cheapest recruits — are the ones that are already working here,” Harrison said.

Roswell isn’t the only community suffering from shortages. One community had 86 physicians come and leave in a five-year period, Harrison said. Las Cruces lost 50 in one year.

“Most of them went to Texas,” Harrison said.

Medical students in the U.S. are facing a tough future this year. For the first time ever, hundreds of U.S. citizens graduating from medical school will not get residency slots.

This is a result of a federal policy passed in 1997 that says only 22,000 new physicians a year can enter a residency program. Medicaid pays for most of the cost, with the state only paying some 17 percent.

“It’s going to create lots of heartburn as a result,” Harrison said.

The group discussed whether to search for outside funding sources to pay for additional resident physicians, but the problem in Roswell remains with a lack of available instructional physicians to assist with the program. The residents have to meet several national accreditation requirements, including seeing a certain number of elderly people, births, complete procedures and have oversight by another physician, Harrison said.

“We’re talking about basically running a medical school,” Kintigh said.

The demand for family medicine physicians and family nurse practitioners has also skyrocketed, Harrison said. Medical school students often graduate $500,000 or more in debt. Specializing in other fields allows them to pay off their loans faster, he said.

The committee also spoke about the need to focus on recruiting physicians and “coming up with ideas around how to treat this very highly compensated group of people.”

Kintigh said the committee, which will meet once a month, is hugely important.

“I am prepared to assist you personally in any recruitment effort,” Kintigh said. “This was the frustration I saw repeatedly in the Legislature. Lubbock is closer than Albuquerque. I’m tired of everything being driven by (University of New Mexico) Medical. We need to be looking into a relationship with Texas Tech Medical. We need them at this table, too.”

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