Rural health care in Calif. nearing ‘crisis’

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In a collaboration between the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting and the San Francisco Chronicle, the center’s David Freed ventures into rural Mendocino County in northern California to explain and examine the ongoing (and worsening) shortage of physicians in American rural areas.mendocino-ca

Ukiah emergency room physician Marvin Trotter says that within the next five to seven years, the shortages will grow into a “full-blown health care crisis.” It’s a crisis about which the 58-year-old doctor speaks with eloquence and force.

“You’re going to see more complications and a lesser quality of life,” said Trotter, who puts in 12-hour days three days a week in the emergency room at Ukiah Valley Medical Center, the town’s only hospital. “You’re going to have your foot cut off more as a diabetic. You’re going to have more heart attacks because nobody’s taking care of your cholesterol. You’re going to have more people lose their vision because they can’t get in to see an ophthalmologist. That’s all a function of physician accessibility, and accessibility’s going away.”

Trotter’s quote is a reminder that, for rural America, “doctor shortage” means far more than just primary care. For a broad overview of the growing rural physician shortage, I recommend the “Older doctors, fewer hours” subheading on the story’s first page. The following subhead, “Scarcity at critical levels,” offers a deeper look.

In the second story in the package, Freed looks at how rural communities are working to solve the shortage, and why their efforts keep falling flat.

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