As of Tuesday, June 12, 2018
A recent article in the Twin Falls Times-News brings into sharp relief a major hurdle rural Idaho communities must overcome. The story focused, in part, on Doctor Keith Davis, who has served the people of Lincoln County since 1985. However, that was just the setup to the story.
Doctor Davis is the county’s one and only doctor.
The article points out that Lincoln County is roughly the size of Rhode Island. The difference is, a search of “doctors in Rhode Island” produces thousands of hits. There are more board members with the Rhode Island Medical Society than there are doctors in Lincoln County.
Rural counties like Lincoln, Camas, Gooding and others face similar problems. Idaho ranks 49th in the nation in doctors per capita. One-third of Idaho’s doctors will retire in the next 10 years. Anyone living in rural Idaho doesn’t need to look at a list to know this. Securing even a routine doctor’s appointment can sometimes require weeks of waiting. According to the story, Doctor Davis saw over 50 patients on his first day – including one who gave birth.
Prior to the 2018 legislative session, Doctor Ted Epperly, Idaho’s General Medical Education Coordinator, laid out a 10-year Strategic Plan (“Plan”) to dramatically increase the number of medical residencies in Idaho. Medical students perform residencies after graduating from medical school and prior to entering private practice. Under the Plan, the number of residency programs in Idaho would skyrocket from nine to 21. The number of residents and fellows in training would more than double. The number of graduates would increase 237 percent.
The report noted that between 50 and 75-percent of residents set up shop within 100 miles of where they do their residency training. If you draw a 100-mile radius around the center of Lincoln County, that opens up a lot of possibilities beyond the county’s lone doctor.
Beyond the obvious health benefits, the Plan also makes good business sense. The cost of training hundreds more doctors in Idaho would be $16 million over ten years. The estimated economic impact: $1.3 billion and 10,000 new jobs! For commonsense, business-minded Idahoans, a $16 million investment over ten years that produces hundreds of new doctors, thousands of jobs and more than a billion dollars in economic activity is a no-brainer.
However, our governor recommended initial funding of only $1 million. The Joint Finance & Appropriations Committee had a better sense of the Plan’s upside and voted to budget nearly double that amount. That still falls well short of the start-up investment requested under the Plan.
I represent four rural Idaho counties in the State Senate. I know the challenges my constituents face. Idaho needs bold, strong plans to provide quality healthcare for our residents no matter where they live. Instead, we have patched together incremental improvements. For a place like Lincoln County, that has had one doctor for 33 years, “incrementalism” isn’t going to cut it.
Tell your elected officials to vote for rural Idaho’s health, its communities and its economic future. Tell them to get with the “Plan” now so our communities can thrive!
Sen. Michelle Stennett is the Democratic Leader in the Idaho State Senate. She Represents Lincoln, Gooding, Camas and Blaine counties in District 26.