Brattleboro Memorial Hospital: Primary care shortage hits close to home

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Recently, several independent primary care physicians have retired or transitioned out of their current practice. Drs. Tortolani and Sczesny closed their practice in June 2017 and Dr. Bresnahan will be retiring at the end of December 2017. The closure of these practices has caused a significant number of patients seeking primary care clinicians with the BMH Medical Group.

At this time, we are trying to accommodate patients' requests through the establishment of our Interim Care Clinic as well as recruitment of additional primary care clinicians. We have been successful in recruiting two new nurse practioners who recently started at Maplewood Family Practice and Putney Family Healthcare as well as a primary care provider, Karen Hoover, MD, who will start at Brattleboro Internal Medicine later this fall. Unfortunately, these additional clinicians do not meet the demand and we are working diligently to recruit additional primary care providers. On average, we have been interviewing two clinicians per week since June and will continue the recruitment process until we are successful.

Prior to the practice closures, Brattleboro was identified, by our local chapter of the Area Health Education Center, as being in need of eight additional primary care clinicians to meet the needs of our community. Brattleboro Memorial Hospital's situation is a microcosm of a nationwide shortage. In a report released in March 2017, the Association of American Medical Colleges projected a national shortfall of almost 104,000 primary care physicians by 2030. The shrinking pool of primary care providers coupled with the growing health needs of our aging community strains our existing primary care resources.

The root cause of this shortage is two-pronged — convincing medical students to enter into primary care and subsequently persuading those students to join a primary care practice in a rural area. Most students attend medical schools and serve residencies in urban locales and become accustomed to the attractions of a city lifestyle and larger medical institutions. This results in the newly minted providers remaining in a metro setting and overlooking the possibility of a rural lifestyle. A recent survey performed by Merritt Hawkins, one of the biggest physician recruiting firms in the country, stated that only 3 percent of medical residents prefer to practice in communities of 25,000 people or less.

For students who do select to practice primary care in rural areas, competition to recruit them is fierce.To exacerbate the issue, over 25n percent of physicians in the United States are foreign born, many of whom seek to practice in rural areas, and with federal immigration policies changing, access to these providers will become more difficult.

We continue to appreciate the community's support during this transition period and are committed to finding clinicians who are dedicated to delivering exceptional care for our neighbors and becoming active members of our community.

Tony Blofson, MD, is a board-certified family practitioner with Maplewood Family Practice in Brattleboro, a member of the BMH Medical Group and is Medical Director of the BMH Medical Group. Steven R. Gordon is President and CEO of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.


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