To address the state’s shortage of primary care physicians, the osteopathic college in Jonesboro is using a $200,000 grant to help establish residencies in Delta-area hospitals.
In November, the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro received the grant from the Delta Regional Authority to create a consortium with five hospitals to open residency positions. The hospitals are Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center in Kennett, Missouri; Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Walnut Ridge; Arkansas Methodist Medical Center in Paragould; Five Rivers Hospital in Pocahontas; and Piggott Community Hospital.
The Consortium for Medication Education in the Delta also will provide clinical education for third- and fourth-year medical students from the osteopathic college, which opened in the fall on the campus of A-State.
“The grant is designed to work with five hospitals, … because no single hospital has all of the resources they need for residency training or graduate medical education,” said Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, the vice president for health sciences and medical affairs and inaugural site dean at the school. “But if we pull them together and partner with the medical school, then we’re able to establish residency training programs.”
The grant money will be used to assess each of the five hospitals and hire someone to handle the applications to receive regulatory approval for the program.
The consortium first needs approval from the American College of Graduate Medical Education. After the consortium receives that green light, it then needs to apply to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for the funding.
Ross-Lee expects the first residency spot to become available in about two and a half years.
That would be welcomed by medical students because there’s a dearth of residency positions.
Ross Lee’s successor as site dean, Dr. Shane Speights, was announced last week. Speights is an osteopath and family practitioner in Jonesboro who was involved in bringing the NYIT college to ASU.
In 2016, 42,370 medical graduates applied for 30,750 available first- and second-year residency positions, according to a March 2016 news release from the National Resident Matching Program in Washington.
The lack of residency positions leaves medical school grads in a holding pattern because they can’t apply for their license to practice medicine until they’ve completed their residency training.
The number of residency positions hasn’t grown much because, among other reasons, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 capped federal funding for residency positions at hospitals.
Ross-Lee said the cap on funding is for existing educational programs, “not on new programs in underserved areas.”
She said the consortium is in the planning stages, but she would like eventually to add no fewer than 24 residency slots, which would be eight a year for three years. “We haven’t done a complete assessment,” Ross-Lee said. “We may be able to do more than eight, but that’s what the funding is for, to look at the resources and determine … how many we would be able to support.”
The goal, of course, is to have the residents stay in the area once they become doctors.
Luther Lewis, the CEO of Five Rivers in Pocahontas, said his hospital agreed to be a part of the consortium because of the difficulty the hospital has had in attracting physicians to the area and retaining them. “So it looked like a great way to increase the potential physician supply into northeast Arkansas,” he said.
Residents will be doing some of their clinical rotations at the 50-bed hospital. “It will give the students exposure to our hospital and hopefully be a source for us to attract more physicians to our community,” Lewis said.
The doctors at the hospital support the program and are willing to have residents in the emergency department and possibly on surgeries, he said.
After the consortium is developed, Ross-Lee said, she wants to add two more consortiums in the southern parts of the Delta. “We may wind up with three of these rural consortiums in order to supply physicians over time,” she said. “Our goal is to educate physicians in Arkansas for Arkansas.”