Bayhealth has received $750,000 in federal grant funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to develop rural residency programs. HRSA awarded approximately $20 million in Rural Residency Planning and Development Program (RRPD) grants to recipients across 21 states. The health system was among 27 nationwide that will receive up to $750,000 over a three-year period to develop new rural residency programs while achieving accreditation through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
The award comes at a time when the number of full-time equivalent primary care physicians providing direct patient care in Delaware is declining. That number declined about 6 percent from 2013 to 2018, according to a University of Delaware study of the primary care physician workforce commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). In 2018, there were 815 individual primary care physicians practicing in Delaware, down from 862 in 2013.
“These funds will significantly help us strengthen the primary care workforce in Delaware, particularly the central and southern parts of the state,” said DHSS Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a board-certified family physician. “We need more primary care physicians to remain in practice and find ways to encourage new doctors, including those from minority and rural backgrounds, to choose primary care as their specialty.”
Another concerning trend shows a declining percentage of primary care physicians expecting to be active in five years, especially in Kent County. Kent has the highest percentage of physicians 65 and older (25 percent), compared with Sussex County (16 percent) and New Castle County (13 percent). Only 60 percent of primary care physicians in Kent County reported that they will be active in five years, compared to 70 percent in Sussex County and 78 percent in New Castle County.
“We are extremely grateful for, and excited about, the opportunities this funding provides for our state,” said Division of Public Health (DPH) Director Dr. Karyl Rattay. “As demonstrated in Kent and Sussex counties, rural communities are more likely to have a shortage of health professionals. However, clinicians who train in rural settings are more likely to continue to practice there after they complete their residencies. This grant award will help us enhance the pool of long-term practicing physicians.”
The Rural Residency Planning and Development Program (RRPD), administered by HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) and Bureau of Health Workforce (BHW), is part of a multi-year initiative by HRSA to expand the physician workforce in rural areas by developing new, sustainable residency programs in family medicine, internal medicine, and psychiatry. Rural residency programs often face challenges in securing sustainable financing and faculty support. The RRPD grant award funding will help recipients address these challenges.
Bayhealth has chosen to focus on family medicine in their residency programs. The Bayhealth program will include six residents per year.
“We are thrilled to have been awarded this grant from HRSA. This grant will be used to continue our promise to deliver the nation’s best health care here at home,” said Bayhealth President & CEO Terry M. Murphy, FACHE. “As we look toward our future at Bayhealth, our medical education programs are an investment not only in Bayhealth’s future, but in the future of each community we serve.”
“We’re facing a projected shortage of primary care physicians in our country, particularly in places like Kent and Sussex counties. The number of older folks who will need access to quality health care is also predicted to double in the next twenty years,” said U.S. Senator Chris Coons. “The Rural Residency Planning and Development Program is one of many initiatives supported by Congress to address these shortages while supporting medical centers like Bayhealth and Beebe.”
Both Kent County – 2,069 patients per primary care physician – and Sussex County – 2,014 patients per physician –¬ are above the 2,000-to-one ratio used by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to designate shortage areas.