As published in the Sacramento Business Journal 2/21/2018
Capitol Health Network, a consortium of Sacramento area health clinics serving low-income patients, plans to close its doors and reopen as a nonprofit focused on recruiting physicians for community clinics by providing student loan repayment assistance.
Capitol Health Network includes seven area clinics with over 40 delivery sites combined. In June, those clinics will join the Central Valley Health Network, an existing consortium of community health clinics, and Capitol Health Networks will rebrand as Community Clinic Support Services Inc.
Community Clinic Support Services will focus on recruiting physicians for community clinics statewide by providing up to $60,000 in loan repayment for hundreds of physicians, CEO Steve Heath said. With matching repayment funds from clinics and state programs, many physicians will be able to cut their student loan repayments by more than half, he said.
Student loan repayment is one of the most effective ways for medical providers to recruit physicians, Heath said. But community clinics, which primarily serve low-income patients, often struggle to provide adequate loan repayment benefits.Steve Heath is CEO of Capitol Health Network, which will soon rebrand as Community Clinic Support Services Inc.
A recent survey conducted by Capitol Health Networks found a 26 percent physician vacancy rate among health clinics in Northern California. By comparison, a nationwide study from 2013 found that vacancy rates for physicians at hospitals were under 18 percent.
Heath said that the high vacancy rate at community clinics has been exacerbated by the expansion of California’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. As more people gained health coverage under the ACA, clinics saw increased demand from this ballooning patient population.
“Obamacare created demand (for medical care), but not supply” of physicians, Heath said.
In California, there are few outside organizations that assist clinics in providing student loan repayment benefits to recruit physician talent. The two most prominent organizations are Claremont-based Uncommon Good and Health Professions Education Foundation, which is affiliated with the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, according to Heath.
Community Clinic Support Services would provide student loan repayment assistance to physicians who commit to working at community health clinics, he said. If fully funded, Community Clinic Support Services would accept about 150 physicians per year and provide up to $60,000 over the course of six years. At full capacity, the organization will provide assistance to six cadres of about 150 physicians completing the six-year assistance program.
Some of the assistance packages Community Clinic Support Services will offer will be matched by the state or individual clinics, effectively doubling the repayment assistance physicians receive, Heath said. With average student loan debts for medical school graduates reaching about $180,000 in 2016, many newly minted physicians could cut their student loan debts by more than half.
Each cadre of approximately 150 physicians, according to Heath, represents about 480,000 patient encounters per year.
Heath has already recruited four board members for Community Clinic Support Services: Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities; Dr. Jose Arevalo, chief medical officer of Sutter Independent Physicians; Angela Minniefield, vice president of advancement, strategic development and external affairs at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles; and Dr. Deanna Stover, CEO of the Community Health Association, Inland Southern Region.
Arevalo said he joined the board of Community Clinic Support Services because community clinics are a crucial component of the health care system in California, but often struggle to find and retain physicians.
“One of the biggest challenges is getting physicians to provide care in (underserved) areas,” Arevalo said. “There needs to be inducement to recruit them. One of the ways to do that is providing student loan assistance.”
Once a physician begins practicing in a certain community, he added, “they often will want to continue practicing in these communities.”
To entice stakeholders like foundations and health plans to underwrite the organization, the benefactors will be able to designate specific counties where 75 percent of their contribution will be invested. The other 25 percent will be invested in counties and clinics at the discretion of the board.
Sacramento Business Journal