Certainly one of the great problems facing Del Norte County is our health provider shortage. In 2005, the county lost a quarter of its physicians, and only some of them have since been replaced. That shouldn't be a surprise while the shortage is a problem virtually everywhere, our general isolation and small population makes recruitment and retention more difficult.
Given this, the community would be wise to follow the recommendations issued this spring in a nearly 100-page report detailing how to correct the health care provider shortage here. Prepared for the county by the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University, the report aptly describes the situation before us and offers several realistic, workable solutions.
As the report notes, lack of health care providers hurts our quality of life and is an economic drain. Indeed, during 2006, about 44 percent of local residents needed to leave the county for health services. The economic impact is significant dollars spent outside of our community during medical trips, lost work time and a drag on development as potential companies believe the community wouldn't be able to meet their employees' health needs.
The reports' recommendations almost certainly would help overcome the shortage. Among them:
Develop a plan that links recruitment and retention. It's not just enough to get health care providers here we also need to keep them here.
Support recruitment through public programs that repay loans or offer other incentives. To compete with other communities, we need gold bricks that balance against what health providers might view as our negatives.
Create "grow your own" programs. Through our high school and community college campuses, we can can train people to work as techs and nurses.
Establish a permanent body for recruitment and retention. The Physician Recruiting and Retention Committee would become an organization that oversees and coordinates such efforts.
Currently, that committee is examining ways of implementing the report's suggestions. We encourage them to continue that work and urge others to join this vital endeavor.