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Published: Tuesday, 9/14/2010

Shortages in medical work force a concern

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As provisions of federal health-care reform take effect and more residents have insurance coverage - and northwest Ohio's population ages - the local medical work force shortage will increase, officials say.

The number of doctors per 1,000 northwest Ohioans already is about 20 percent below the state average. And that percentage could double in a decade or so, said Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor and executive vice president for biosciences and health affairs at the University of Toledo.

Even if reform issues of health-care access, quality, and cost can be successfully addressed, concerns about a shortage of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and other health-care professionals remain both nationwide and in the area, said Dr. Gold, also dean of UT's medical school, formerly the Medical College of Ohio.

"We have major, major challenges in the community dealing with work force," he told about 100 people Monday gathered for a forum on health-care reform.

Dr. Gold was one of the speakers for the first of an expected series of forums on health-care reform organized by ProMedica Health System. Officials from local hospitals, insurance companies, employers, and elected office were among those who attended the event at the Hilton Garden Inn in Perrysburg.

The hope is to address some of the problems in the region associated with reform, including the general health of local residents, a high rate of poverty, costs associated with reform, and work-force shortages, said Randy Oostra, ProMedica's president and chief executive.

"No matter what you think about health-care reform, you shouldn't ignore it," Mr. Oostra said.

He added: "Unless we actually start to look at some of these issues, we're not going to change anything."

To control Medicaid costs in Ohio, for example, the financially troubled state needs to move away from caring for elderly recipients in nursing homes, said Greg Moody, senior consultant with Health Management Associates, a research and consulting firm.

Providing medical care in home and community-based settings instead of in nursing homes would result in better outcomes for patients and less spending for the state, he said.

This November's election, meanwhile, likely will result in changes for health-care reform if Republicans win congressional seats as expected, another speaker said.

And there may not be players in place to seek compromises between the two political parties, added Peggy Tighe, a lawyer and partner with Strategic Health Care, a health-care lobbying and consulting firm.

"I worry we don't have a lot of people in the middle," she said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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