Give Nurse Practitioners Full Authority

Article excerpt

There's a workforce shortage crisis in Pennsylvania's health care system, especially in primary care and everyone knows it-- doctors, nurses, insurance companies and especially patients.

As a nurse practitioner providing care for over 1,300 ill veterans in the Philadelphia VA system, I witness the workforce shortage every day. Whether it's providing care for chronic illnesses like congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, or COPD, or screening for cancer and PTSD, one thing is for sure - Pennsylvania patients need more licensed certified primary care professionals.

Here is a synopsis of the crisis. According to the state Department of Health:

. There are only 5,000 primary care physicians in Pennsylvania, with a quarter of them estimated to leave the practice in two short years.

. 55 of our 67 counties are designated as health professional shortage areas or medically underserved areas representing 22 percent of all Pennsylvanians.

. With the Affordable Care Act about to kick in, more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians will be seeking primary care in an already strained system.

. The ratio of patients to primary care physicians in Pennsylvania is 851:1 and as high as 2,467:1 in some counties.

Recognizing the severe workforce shortage of primary care providers in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett included a number of measures in his recently unveiled "Healthy PA" plan to help address this problem. His plan includes a loan forgiveness program for medical students who agree to become primary care physicians. Healthy PA also includes funding for additional residency slots and incentivizes primary care professionals, including nurse practitioners, to practice in underserved areas of Pennsylvania.

This is a good start but much more needs to be done. A healthy Pennsylvania means Pennsylvanians can get primary healthcare when they need it. If we are to live up to the Hippocratic Oath of "First do no harm," then we need to make sure every sick patient can see a primary care professional before harm is done. This is why the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners, which I chair, along with the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Academy of Family Physicians, support Mr. …

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