Legislators gather ideas to solve physician shortage

By JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD, Courier Staff Writer

WATERLOO — Area legislators gathered ideas on how to solve the state’s physician shortage problem on Monday.

The lead item was a $15 million health care work force shortage fund that would add 150 new physician residency slots across the state and provide incentives such as forgivable loans for health care professionals.

Under the plan, the state would contribute $3 million, and Iowa Health Systems, Allen Hospital’s parent company, would contribute $5 million to the effort. The remaining $7 million would come from a combination of private health care companies, individuals and federal funds.

Rep. Tami Wiencek, R-Waterloo, said the plan warrants further study, especially because neither she nor her staff had heard of it.

“It’s a brand new initiative and I think it’s important we have a discussion on that,” she said. “Money is always involved, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it.”

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said the current fiscal climate means any new funding will be hard to come by.

Last week, a panel of state budget experts estimated the state would fall about $400 million short of original revenue estimates, in part because of the financial crisis on Wall Street.

Even so, Dotzler said the state should take a serious look at the proposal, because it will help improve access to health care for Iowans.

Health care professionals have long said the state faces a severe shortage in psychiatrists and, to a lesser extent, general physicians. Last year, the mental health unit at Trinity Hospital in Fort Dodge closed because a psychiatrist could not be found.

“I think it’s something we have to do,” Dotzler said. “I would say one of the central themes of government is to make sure people are healthy and safe, and I think we’re failing on one of those.”

Contact Jens Manuel Krogstad at (319) 291-1580 or jens.krogstad@wcfcourier.com.

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