By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
After government, the makes up Del Norte County's biggest industry an engine that needs more fuel to serve the region's medical needs and economic growth, according to a report released this week.
During the past year, roughly half of about 400 polled Del Norte County residents left the county for health services, the report states. The county loses anywhere from $1.5 million to more than $8 million each year, along with dozens of jobs, when patients leave to see doctors in such cities as Eureka and Grants Pass, Ore.
The findings are part of the Del Norte County Health Care Provider Recruiting and Retention Plan that the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University recently released. The plan comes as a review of the county's doctor shortage, highlighted in 2005 when approximately a quarter of the county's nearly 60 doctors left the region. The Physician Recruiting and Retention Committee formed to address the issue.
The plan recommends making that committee a permanent organization under the Del Norte Healthcare District to coordinate steps to recruit and keep doctors in the county.
It offers tips to help tapping federal and private programs that place doctors in rural regions to pay off student loans, for instance, or showing off key local attractions during job interviews and introducing potential employees to a local social network.
Other tips call for forging connections with current doctors' former schools and relationships with medical groups in Humboldt County and finding sources to pay costs for candidate interviews.
A suggested "grow your own" initiative urges lectures on health care careers to students in Kindergarten through high school and bolstering distance learning programs.
The report mainly spotlights the economic connection to the health care sector that various groups in Del Norte County could grow.
"That serves as a good motivation for the community," Erick Eschker, chair of HSU's economics department and one of the report's authors, said of the document. "This provides motivation, especially on the economic side, for the whole community to consider what they can do and consider doing more."
The report estimates that the county's health sector in 2002 produced more than $55 million worth of services, employed more than 670 workers and generated more than $30 million. Indirectly, the field left a more than $76 million impact and created 945 jobs.
"Community leaders in Del Norte need to understand the importance of the health sector to their local economy and to understand the importance of recruiting and retaining health care workers," the report states.
With the retiree population growing faster than other segments, for instance, Del Norte County needs to offer a wider mix of health care services to continue attracting those potential residents.
"Retirees can be a substantial source of spending in the local economy," the report states.
Efforts to recruit workers in other fields also relies on bringing more doctors to the county, as those looking to relocate tend to review a region's crime, schools and health care system.
"Communities with perceived low-quality health care services will not be able to recruit top talent," according to the report.