THIS General Message
The Tower Health & Wellness Center has developed a new Non-Profit organization, Tower Health Initiatives and Services (THIS). Its purpose is to address one of the most important healthcare need in our community, the shortage of healthcare providers. Local and national data indicates that our region (Turlock and the Central Valley as a whole) is significantly under-served and in dire need of primary care physicians and nearly every other medical and surgical specialty.
The Tower Health & Wellness Center began development in 2002 and opened in 2005. From its inception, the goal has been to recruit exceptional physicians to Turlock and its surrounding communities. Early on, Emanuel Medical Center was a strong and supportive partner in this effort and together, over 10 physicians were recruited. Unfortunately, over the past few years, many of those who were recruited have left the community. In addition, several established Turlock physicians have retired or are scheduled to retire in the very near future. Replacing these physicians has proven to be a challenge and access to superior healthcare services in our area has become a crisis.
Establishing THIS is an effort to strengthen the recruitment and retention opportunities for our Community. Our mission is: To improve the health and wellbeing of all peoples. Specifically, THIS has the community goal of becoming the “Healthiest Community in America”. Our objective is to recruit primary care (family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics), specialty physicians (orthopedics, urology, dermatology, ophthalmology, allergy, endocrinology, oncology, psychiatry) and others that are urgently needed.
The challenge is significant! The barriers to recruitment are nearly always economic. Physicians completing their training and looking for a place to practice are often saddled with academic debt that exceeds $250,000. This financial burden limits their options to large healthcare systems who have the resources to offer debt forgiveness, sign on bonuses, moving expenses, etc. This leaves communities such as Turlock and smaller medical practices at a significant disadvantage. Community leaders, local businesses and patients who prefer to receive their healthcare services locally and delivered under the Tower Health & Wellness Center’s Medical Home model where patients are offered the four A’s of quality healthcare: Accessibility, Availability, Affordability and Acceptability as the merited standard, can support the recruitment of primary care, specialty physicians, and healthcare professionals into our region.
The threat of not having a sufficient physician base that can respond to the healthcare needs of our community should be a foremost concern to all. An inadequate physician base produces limited access to healthcare at all levels, regardless of one’s income, stature or influence. The common fallacy we often hear is that health insurance companies are responsible for providing access to healthcare. The reality is the best insurance in the world will not provide anyone, regardless of their insurance or their personal means, access to a physician if they simply are not present. Local evidence of this growing crisis is the experience of the physicians at the Tower Health & Wellness Center. Currently, the primary care physicians have a waiting list of over a thousand patients who need a personal physician, while the specialists in the Tower have a four to six week waiting list for their initial visit. These lists continue to grow. This is not accessible healthcare, nor is this acceptable healthcare.
The absence of appropriate and needed healthcare challenges the quality of life of our community and ultimately risks lives. A lack of physicians in suitable quantities and available specialties produces a delay in care for the ill and injured. Subsequently increasing the costs of maintaining a family or running a business. Physicians are needed to provide the diagnosis of injuries and illness and to coordinate the healthcare needs of the patients. As a community, we must make every effort to insure there is quality healthcare for our families and our employees. Healthcare that is accessible, available and comprehensive is what we must strive to provide. The healthcare we need should offer continuity and be provided by physicians that offer a personal and satisfying relationship. Anything less threatens our community and its citizen’s wellbeing, even our ability to maintain a sustainable livelihood.
Bolstering the physician population in our community not only secures access to quality healthcare by adding depth and breadth to our available providers, THIS will be preserving our community’s economy as well. Appreciating that healthcare and related services represents 20% of the local and national economy, losing significant components of healthcare to Sacramento, San Francisco and beyond represents a significant deficit to the local economic engine that provides resources for our social and individual needs.
The Tower’s limited resources as a collaborative collection of private physicians have too often prevented it from being financially competitive against the large provider organizations, hospitals and insurance systems. That said, we have learned that it is not necessary that we match the recruitment efforts dollar for dollar, but we must offer the newly minted physicians a way out of their financial quagmire. THIS was created following the model that other organizations have successfully utilized to recruit new providers to their community. As a non-profit organization, THIS offers a vehicle whereby an individual or corporation can provide tax deductible contributions that will be utilized to mitigate the economic burdens of the newly recruited physicians.
All contributions will be tax deductible and will support the recruitment effort, provide into practice allowances, academic debt relief or other identified solutions to the physician recruitment barrier. Depending on the individual needs, each solution will be tailored to make the efforts flexible and successful. In exchange, the physician will commit to providing professional services to our community for a specified length of time. The expectation is that the new provider will permanently choose our Community to practice and raise their families just as we all have. THIS’ goal is to identify and provide the necessary resources to recruit and retain providers each year until the healthcare service needs of our community are met. We will strive to maintain our mission for generations to come.