BY SABRA STAFFORD

Photo contributed
Students enrolled this spring in the
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
master’s degree program.

The ongoing healthcare crisis in the Central Valley of a lack of trained healthcare professionals remaining in the area moved a step towards a solution when two local organizations provided the funding for a new degree program at California State University Stanislaus.

Legacy Health Endowment and the Stanislaus Community Foundation have teamed up to fund a critical piece to solving healthcare provider shortages in Stanislaus and Merced Counties, by providing a combined $1.9 million grant for a new family nurse practitioner degree program at the university.

The Legacy Health Endowment will be working with the Livingston Community Health clinic and providing them with a $1.6 million grant to help CSU Stanislaus launch a Master’s Degree in Family Medicine. A major part of this grant will fund tuition relief for students in the program who agree to live and work as nurse practitioners within the Legacy Health Endowment’s greater region of influence for at least three years after graduation. In this way, the two organizations hope to increase the number of medical professionals in the underserved local area.

SCF is providing an additional $300,000 to support outreach to area high schools and career navigation as well as debt relief for nursing graduates, bringing the combined total gift to $1.9 million.

“We are proud to partner with Stanislaus Community Foundation and Livingston Community Health to tackle the acute shortage of medical professionals in Stanislaus and Merced Counties,” said Legacy Health Endowment President and CEO Jeffrey Lewis. “Congress refuses to confront the healthcare perils facing women, men and children in rural communities. Republicans and Democrats have created a patchwork of efforts, filled with gaping holes and layers of obstacles.

“By starting with a program to educate Nurse Practitioners, we can work toward ensuring that every person in this community has access to medical care professionals. For LHE, this is just the first step. We are fortunate to have Livingston Community Health, a nonprofit healthcare facility, as partner in helping lead this effort.”

The LHE region covers 19 zip codes in Southern Stanislaus County and Merced County, including the communities of West Modesto, Ceres, Turlock, Newman, Patterson, Crows Landing, Hughson, Keyes, Gustine, Newman, Hilmar, Livingston, Atwater, Denair, Winton, Ballicoand Delhi. These areas suffer from an acute shortage of medical providers.

“Stanislaus Community Foundation views this partnership as the first step in addressing the healthcare needs of our residents,” said President and CEO of SCF Marian Kaanon. “SCF also recognizes we need to build a coordinated education infrastructure to ensure that we have programs in place to educate our residents and provide access to well-paying and in-demand healthcare jobs.”

A report last year from the Healthforce Center at UCSF found that the ratio of primary care physicians to population in California is similar to the national ratio, but the ratios of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to population are lower. The rate of nurse practitioners is lower by 35 percent and the rate of physician assistants is lower than 16 percent, according to the report’s findings.

The report also found that for rural areas nurse practitioners and physician assistants make up a larger share of the primary care workforce, so if an area can increase the number of people practicing those professions, it will have an overall increase on the rate of primary care availability in a region.

“We could not be more grateful for this transformational gift, which will significantly enhance the Stanislaus State School of Nursing,” said Stan State President Ellen Junn. “Our University is here for the purpose of preparing our region’s workforce, and there is a great need for nurse practitioners in the Central Valley.”

Research has shown that nurse practitioners play a key role in improving access to healthcare, allowing physicians’ offices to provide care to a greater number of patients. The new degree program at CSU Stanislaus will graduate nurse practitioners each year, with the first class starting in January 2018 and graduating by December 2019, thereby, going a long way to expand access to care in the northern Central Valley.

“We are honored to work with Legacy Health Endowment and begin to rebuild the healthcare infrastructure in Stanislaus and Merced Counties,” said President of Livingston Community Health Leslie McGowan. “As we build programs to educate, retain and recruit physicians, it is also important to ensure that we recognize the value and importance that Nurse Practitioners can contribute. The future of healthcare in the Central Valley will not be solved in Washington, D.C. It will take the collaboration, vision and commitment that LHE and LCH can bring.”