From the Washington Office

Surgical workforce shortages in rural areas


 

References

This month I write about one of the College’s current advocacy efforts directed at ensuring an adequate surgical workforce in underserved and rural areas. Evidence indicates a current and growing shortage of surgeons available to serve the needs of populations in certain parts of the country. A shortage of general surgeons is a clear component to the crisis in health care workforce. Accordingly, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) is urging policy makers to recognize that only surgeons are uniquely qualified to provide certain necessary, lifesaving procedures, which other health professionals are neither trained nor competent to provide.

To determine where these areas of shortage are located and where access to surgical care is thus potentially a challenge, the ACS is strongly supporting the efforts of Representatives Larry Bucshon, MD, FACS (R-Ind.) and Ami Bera, MD (D-Calif.) who recently introduced H.R. 4959, the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act of 2016. This legislation serves to direct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct a study on the designation of surgical Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA).

Dr. Patrick V. Bailey

Dr. Patrick V. Bailey

A variety of federal programs use the HPSA designation to improve access to health care by focusing aid and assistance on specific geographic areas and populations with the greatest unmet needs. The division of HHS known as the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has developed criteria used to determine whether certain geographic areas, population groups, or facilities may be designated as a HPSA. HPSA designation may be applied to urban or rural geographic areas, specific population groups, medical provider groups, or other public health care facilities. Currently, HRSA limits HPSA designations to shortages in primary care services, dental services, or mental health services.

HRSA has never designated an entity as a HPSA purely based upon a shortage of surgical services. In light of the available evidence relative to the shortage of surgical providers in certain parts of the country, ACS believes that research is necessary to determine exactly what constitutes a surgical shortage area, e.g., establish definitional criteria, with subsequent application of those criteria to determine where areas so defined are located. Such would provide HRSA with a valuable tool to utilize in efforts directed at increasing patient access to surgical care. Ultimately, offering incentives to surgeons to locate or remain in HPSA communities could become critical in guaranteeing all Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of geographic location, have access to quality surgical care. Determining what constitutes a surgical shortage area will serve to help HRSA to appropriately focus its resources.

Accordingly, we need your help and urge you to take action today.

Using the information below, please call your representatives today and urge them to join their colleagues and cosponsor H.R. 4959, the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act of 2016.

Instructions

Call toll-free: 1-877-996-4464

You will be connected to your representative‘s office. Once you are connected, provide your name and indicate that you are a constituent. You should also be prepared to provide additional contact information for follow-up purposes.

Next, we suggest you use the following message:

• As a surgeon and as your constituent, I urge you to join your colleagues and cosponsor H.R. 4959, the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act of 2016, which would direct the Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct a study to designate General Surgery Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA).

• The division of HHS known as the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has developed designation criteria in order to determine whether certain geographic areas, population groups, or facilities may be designated as a HPSA.

• HRSA has never designated an entity as a HPSA purely based upon a shortage of surgical services.

• In light of evidence relative to a shortage of surgeons, ACS believes that research is necessary to determine exactly what constitutes a surgical shortage area and subsequently where these areas exist.

Alternatively, for those who were seeking a topic on which to initiate a personal in-district meeting with representatives and their staff as was discussed in last month’s edition of this column, H.R. 4959 presents a prime subject for such in order to have a focused meeting with a specific ask on a “white hat” issue that will surely resonate with members of Congress. Currently, in-district work periods are scheduled for the last week of June, the last two weeks of July, and the entire month of August.

As always, those with questions or concerns, or those who need assistance in setting up an in-district meeting may contact staff of the Division of Advocacy and Health Policy by phone at 202-337-2701 or via e-mail at surgeonsvoice@facs.org.

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