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Community Health Centers Face Challenges in Attracting, Retaining Quality Staff, Finds UAlbany Center for Workforce Studies Report

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 19, 2011) -- Community health centers (CHCs), often located in underserved communities and serving high-need populations, play an important role in New York’s primary care delivery system. Despite their significance, a new study by the University at Albany’s Center for Workforce Studies sheds light on the particularly difficult challenges CHCs face in recruiting and retaining well-qualified staff, especially in times of health workforce shortages.
doctor with baby and mother

Community health centers face challenges in recruiting and retaining well-qualified staff.

CHCs are considered critical safety net providers in New York state. The bulk of their services are provided to low income New Yorkers, including those who are un- or underinsured. Given federal efforts to reform health care and state efforts to redesign Medicaid, increasing emphasis will be placed on cost-effective primary care services, something CHCs have done for years.

The Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health conducted the research and produced the study. In addition to Jean Moore, Director, center staff members Sandra McGinnis and Robert Martiniano contributed to the report.

“This research helped us to better understand who is in the health center workforce and identify the most pressing recruitment and retention challenges they face,” said Jean Moore, Director, UAlbany’s Center for Health Workforce Studies.

The study found that CHCs have the most difficulty recruiting psychiatrists, obstetricians/gynecologists, and psychiatric and geriatric nurse practitioners. Vacancy rates were highest for psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners, with one in four jobs being unfilled. Job opportunities for obstetricians/gynecologists, social workers, general internists, and family nurse practitioner jobs were also high, on average 15 percent or higher. CHCs reported the most difficulty retaining general internists, licensed practical nurses, and medical assistants.

In contrast to their urban counterparts, rural CHCs relied more heavily on physician assistants to provide primary care services, in both upstate and downstate metropolitan areas. Not surprisingly, rural CHCs reported more difficulty recruiting all categories of primary care professionals compared to urban CHCs.

“An important finding of this research study is the variability of the workforce issues faced by CHCs, depending on their size and geographic location,” said Moore. “Clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach would not be appropriate for workforce policy designed to address the needs of CHCs in New York. Given the importance of CHCs to the health care system in New York and to the success of health reform overall, this workforce merits regular, systematic monitoring,” she added. “This will help ensure the availability of up-to-date and comprehensive information about the CHC workforce to inform policymakers and other stakeholders in New York.”

The report was conducted in collaboration with the Community Health Care Association of New York state and the City University of New York. It describes findings from a survey of the federally qualified health centers that are CHCANYS members in New York.

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