Almost 40% of Arizonans live in ‘health care shortage’ areas
AZ Mirror | By Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | April 15, 2020
About 2.8 million Arizonans – nearly two in every five – live in an area that the federal government says has a health care shortage. For many of those people, particularly in rural Arizona, that lack of care could complicate treatment in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arizona ranks No. 9 in the nation for the most Healthcare Provider Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. The state needs more than 550 new practitioners in those areas in order for the designation to be removed, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“This can really create some barriers to ready access to high quality care,” Dr. Daniel Derksen, a public health expert and an associate vice president for University of Arizona Health Sciences, told Arizona Mirror. Derksen is also the director of the Arizona Center for Rural Health.
“In this coronavirus pandemic, we are seeing a real strain on these areas that don’t have these healthcare providers,” Derksen said. “When you have a small hospital, or maybe there is only an outpatient clinic, it is very hard to handle a rapid increase in acute care when you have a transmissible virus that can cause the moderate to severe infections that require supplemental oxygen.”
HPSAs are a designation given to a geographic area, population or facility that has a shortage of primary care, dental or mental health providers or services. Some portions of Arizona have 100% of their population living within one.
The designation is determined by the Health Resources and Services Administration, the primary agency that helps with improving access to healthcare for people who are uninsured or in isolated areas.
Some money has been spent to address these issues amid the outbreak of COVID-19.
Twenty-three health centers across Arizona within these designated areas split $1.7 millionin COVID-19 aid money, with the largest amount going to the El Rio Santa Cruz Neighborhood Healthcare Center in Tucson, which has been on the list since 2003. It received $143,577 and has one of the highest HPSA ratings in the state.
Adelante Healthcare Inc., which also has one of the highest HPSA scores of all the hospital groups in Arizona and also has been on the list since 2003, received $111,674.
However, areas that have been designated HPSAs have already been feeling the impact, regardless of the financial support from the federal government.
Recently, the Arizona National Guard had to fly in two Black Hawk helicopters to set up a field hospital near Chinle with 50 hospital beds.
Resources on the Navajo Nation continue to be stretched thin. The Tuba City Regional Healthcare Corporation, one of the hospitals that split the $1.7 million, has recently used social media to ask for donations and homemade personal protective equipment, like masks and gowns.
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