Physician Supply

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Recruiting – and Retaining – Doctors in California’s San Joaquin Valley

Maureen Williams (L) seen here with her daughter Carol Baskin, is 95 years old. Williams recently moved away from Firebaugh, but she returns to see Dr. Oscar Sablan. "He saved my life several times," she says. (Photo: Lisa Morehouse)

Maureen Williams is 95 years old (seen with her daughter Carol Baskin) moved away from Firebaugh recently to be closer to family, but she returns to see Dr. Oscar Sablan. “He saved my life several times,” she says. (Photo: Lisa Morehouse)

By Lisa Morehouse

In 1999, in the tiny town of Five Points, 29 farmworkers accidentally entered a field that had just been treated with dangerous organophosphate insecticides. They started vomiting. The labor contractor in charge bypassed local hospitals and brought the crew to his own doctors 50 miles away in the town of Firebaugh. He simply trusted Marcia and Oscar Sablan more.

“We have seen a lot of other cases,” said Oscar Sablan, an internist, “and so we were familiar with the symptoms and we knew what to do.”

They had lots of atropine on hand, a drug used to treat poison victims if they go into respiratory or cardiac arrest. The farmworkers stripped and lined up to rinse the pesticides off in the clinic’s shower, built just for this type of incident. But with so many patients, Oscar Sablan had to recruit help.

“The firemen in town were able to get a kiddie pool and at least wash the people down,” he said.

Firebaugh is surrounded by crops, and the Sablans estimate that 75 percent of their patients work in the fields, like that labor contractor.

Marcia Sablan, who specializes in family medicine, explained, “He knew he could come here. He knew that we would take care of him, so be brought those 29 people over here.”

Patients have relied on the Sablans and the Sablan Medical Clinic for more than 30 years, since the couple moved to Firebaugh as young physicians in the National Health Service Corps. They say they wanted to practice where they were needed. Continue reading

In Midst of Physician Shortage, Inland Empire Gets New Medical School

Michelle Tom receives her white coat from UC Riverside Medical School Dean Richard Olds. (Photo: Carrie Rosema)

Michelle Tom receives her white coat from UC Riverside Medical School Dean Richard Olds. (Photo: Carrie Rosema)

By Kenny Goldberg, KPBS

Classes began this week at California’s newest medical school. UC Riverside is the first publicly-funded medical school to open in the state in more than 40 years. Fifty students make up the school’s inaugural class.

Last Friday night, the audience gave the medical students a warm reception as they filed into the school’s main gymnasium. After some introductory remarks, the crowd fell silent as the young men and women lined up at the foot of the stage.

“I would like to welcome our first student across the stage, Omar Aldas,” the speaker announced.

Riverside County had 99 doctors per 100,000 people, versus a statewide average of 174.
One by one, students came up and were ceremoniously awarded their physician’s white coat.

While some students were visibly nervous as they walked onto the stage. 23-year-old Michelle Tom sported an enormous smile. She was still beaming when the ceremony was over.

“This is just like, unreal, because my whole life, … I wanted to be a doctor,” Tom said. “And finally, finally, I get to put this white coat on.” Continue reading

Empty Promise? Experts Question Doctor Supply to See California’s Newly Insured Poor

By Emily Bazar, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

Dr. Hasmukh Amin, a Bakersfield pediatrician, accepts Medi-Cal patients but says he has to turn away 25-30 people every day who are seeking a pediatrician who accepts Medi-Cal.  Here he examines Marcus and Major Thompson. (Henry A. Barrios/The Californian)

Dr. Hasmukh Amin, a Bakersfield pediatrician, accepts Medi-Cal patients but says he has to turn away 25-30 people every day who are seeking a pediatrician who accepts Medi-Cal. Here he examines Marcus and Major Thompson. (Henry A. Barrios/The Californian)

In less than one year — Jan. 1, 2014 — Obamacare’s promise to bring health care to perhaps 1 million more poor California residents will be tested. That’s when Medi-Cal, the publicly funded health program for the poor and disabled, launches a huge statewide expansion.

But making a promise is one thing, and delivering is another.

In some places, it’s already tough for many poor California residents to find a doctor who is able –- or willing — to see them when they need one.

From the sprawling Los Angeles basin to the sparsely populated rural north, many medical providers who currently see these patients say they are overwhelmed, a situation that could worsen when those newly covered by Medi-Cal arrive for care.

The epicenter is California’s Central Valley, where high rates of uninsured residents, coupled with persistent doctor shortages, create a potentially combustible brew that could thwart the success of the health care law.

“We’re not even talking about 2014,” said Carmen Burgos of the Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance program. Burgos helps low-income Kern County residents access health care and dental services. “Good luck finding a doctor who takes Medi-Cal now.” Continue reading