North Country doctor shortage

by Katie Morse

POTSDAM, NY — Doctors at Canton-Potsdam and other North Country hospitals are treating more and more patients who have no primary care physician. The reason is there are simply not enough doctors in the area to treat everyone.

“From talking to other hospital administrators across the North Country, we’re all facing that challenge. The people that are especially affected are the poor, the uninsured, the Medicaid population,” said David Acker, president and CEO of Canton-Potsdam Hospital.

And patients with no primary care physician might find themselves at a disadvantage.

“Part of the art of medicine is getting to know the background of a patient and the patient’s life circumstances and conditions,” said Dr. Bob Rogers, CPH Medical Director and Internist. “When you know that, you’ve got a running start on understanding their medical problems.”

So what’s the solution to the doctor shortage here in the North Country? Recruitment is important, but that only gets you so far. Many doctors say that change needs to come from New York State itself.

“The Medicaid payment system is abysmal for physicians. For example, primary care physicians who admit patients, they get about eight dollars. If a patient is seen in the emergency room, a Medicaid patient, the physician gets $6.50,” said Acker.

“We can’t even get our students from New York State, residents of New York State, trained in New York State to stay in New York State because of those economic issues,” said Rogers.

Doctors also say the state’s high malpractice rates only add to the fact that nearly half of the doctors trained in New York move to other states.

The shortage of physicians also means that the few doctors in the North Country have completely filled schedules and work long hours to keep up with their patient loads.
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