Editor's note: This is the last of a two-part series on health care in Chautauqua County.
It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to recruit a physician.
Physician recruitment is one of the most difficult tasks groups face. According to Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney, chairperson of the Strategic Planning and Partnerships Commission health care action team, recruiting someone from outside Chautauqua County can be difficult for a variety of reasons.
"It's hard to recruit people who are not from the area," Dr. Ney said. "They look at the area and the reimbursement isn't good, it isn't as good as it is in other places. There's no large airport to be reached. People are really looking for some of those things and they may feel a little isolated."
Ann Abdella, executive director for the Chautauqua County Health Network, said the area has a lower earning index, or wage index, for reimbursement for Medicare. As a result, earnings as a provider in Chautauqua County are less than a physician living in a major metropolitan area.
"There's an argument to be made that the cost of living is going to be different here than it is in another place," she said. "So, how do you outweigh those benefits one to the other? A lot of times, people don't really look at it that way."
GROW YOUR OWN DOCTORS
One of the solutions to recruitment is a "Grow Your Own Program," where groups such as the Chautauqua County Health Network, area hospitals and the Health Care Action Team look to guide students already living in the area.
Groups look for students who are in medical school, nursing students, students in the physician assistant program, pharmacy programs and more.
"Those folks need to be followed. They need to be incorporated into internship programs and rotations here in doctor's offices," Dr. Ney said. "Our doctors here have been always so busy, although they've been very good about opening their practice and their time and their mentoring to students. To a certain extent, it's an effort, because they're so busy. The reason they're so busy is because we have a scarcity of physicians."
According to Abdella, students who grew up in a larger city will rotate through the area as part of their education. However, often, those students often do not return to work following their rotation, simply because it is so different here from where they may have grown up. However, students who have grown up in Chautauqua County already know what to expect.
"What we're working on is trying to attract students who graduated, who grew up in Chautauqua County, in rural communities, to create touch points with them during their medical training, so that they know how much their community needs them, to know how important it is for them to come home," Abdella said. "And they are more likely, because they grew up here. They know about winters, they know about shopping in a small town, what you go to the Internet for, how you manage your season tickets to the Bills or the Sabres."
Lately, though, Dr. Ney said she is seeing more people who did not grow up in Chautauqua County returning to the area following their rotations, something that did not happen as often in the past.
As a way of keeping in touch with medical students from the area, mixers are thrown. Abdella said twice a year, medical students are invited to a mixer to interact with area physicians and other young professionals.
"There is a young professional life, there's a vibrant life for young people to come back," she said. "We are trying to create multiple touch points and build some ongoing relationships with the physicians, the students, like a mentoring type of relationship."
Having just one person working on recruiting will not suffice. According to Dr. Ney, it takes input from the entire community to recruit a physician.
MARKETING THE COUNTY
Marketing Chautauqua County directly to physicians is another thing Dr. Ney said needs to be worked on. Although there are currently packages in place for people wishing to move to the county, Dr. Ney said a package for health care professionals may also be necessary.
"We have to have kind of a consolidated way of presenting a package to the recruitees that is really kind of a state-of-the-art way of giving a presentation about our area, that would be geared toward bringing health care professionals into our area," she said.
Additionally, despite grants, money for recruitment is still a major issue groups are facing. Currently, there is a $10,000 Physician Incentive Recruitment Grant - subsidized by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, the Lenna Foundation and Northwest Savings Bank - which is offered to physicians.
"We need probably a greater communitywide support with an endowment, a big endowment for health care recruitment," Dr. Ney said. "I just don't see how we can do without it. We just can't make up for it when they have these loans. The loans are huge."
With the area being designated as a Health Professionals Shortage Area, despite groups working together for recruitment, nothing will change unless everyone becomes involved.
"This kind of thing, with everybody working together, that's what is going to pay off," Dr. Ney said. "In every discipline, whether it's education, health care or public service, collaboration, working together with a high degree of communication, that's what's going to spell success."
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