Study: Fewer doctors serve Mohawk Valley

A study released Monday could be good news for people who need doctors — unless they live in western
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A study released Monday could be good news for people who need doctors — unless they live in western New York and the Mohawk Valley.

The University at Albany’s Center for Health Workforce Studies issued its annual New York Physician Workforce Profile showing a total of 228 physicians were available per capita in upstate New York in 2006, compared to 318 physicians in the downstate region.

In 2006, residents in the New York City area had almost twice as many physicians per capita than those in the Mohawk Valley encompassing Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie, Herkimer, Madison and Oneida counties, according to the report.

In the Capital District, which includes Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Warren and Washington counties, the study indicates an increase of one percent in full-time equivalent physicians, according to the report.

The Mohawk Valley, however, experienced a seven percent decline in the number of full-time equivalent physicians between 2002 and 2006.

Ironically, state Health Department statistics show people in the Mohawk Valley are more in need of a doctor, on average, than in New York state as a whole.

Montgomery County, for example, had a heart disease incidence rate of 570.2 per 100,000 population in 2002, compared with a rate of 271.1 statewide that year, according to the state Health Department.

Lung cancer rates in every county of the study’s Mohawk Valley region exceeded the state’s rate of 48.7 in 2002, ranging from 90.6 per 100,000 in Schoharie County to 64.9 per 100,000 in Fulton County, according to the state Health Department.

University at Albany Center for Health Workforce Studies Director Jean M. Moore said in the report that the findings suggest the distribution of doctors could “pose serious challenges to patients seeking care in many upstate communities, particularly in rural areas.”

Moore on Monday said the center tracks the supply and location of physicians, but it’s unclear exactly what the results mean for people who need a doctor.

“It’s a lot tougher to answer the question ‘what does that mean for the people in the communities where the distribution is changing?’”

Moore said the center is seeking funding for another study, such as a survey of households in the state “to really understand what the health issues are and where people go for care” to better understand how the supply of doctors impacts that.

William Van Slyke, a spokesman for the Healthcare Association of New York State, said the center’s study provides evidence that there are physician shortages in many areas of the state, especially in rural and inner-city areas.

“We have in some areas what is already a crisis and in other areas what is an emerging crisis that really needs to be addressed,” Van Slyke said.

Sources on Monday pointed to what they saw as an important initiative in Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s executive budget proposal, the Doctors Across New York State proposal.

According to Spitzer’s Web site, the executive budget proposal will propose increased reimbursement rates and grants to encourage doctors to work in underserved communities, in addition to a new educational loan repayment program.

State Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said Monday if those programs make it through the state budget process, the state Health Department would work with the state’s teaching hospitals and medical schools to support them.

Amsterdam Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Rana Huber said Monday an informal survey of people at the hospital suggested several factors might be at play, including reimbursement rates, salaries and recruitment spending being greater in urban hospitals.

The full report, which also breaks down doctor demographics, can be found on the Web site of the University at Albany’s Center for Health Workforce Studies at chws.albany.edu.

Categories: Schenectady County

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