By Jackie Medland
President/CNO, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital
The feedback from our first round of Town Halls made it clear that while community members viewed our physician and provider team as one of our greatest assets, they were also concerned about turnover, which may lead to worry about provider shortages – a nation-wide problem for rural communities. In this column, I’ll focus on the current state of provider staffing across Highlands-Cashiers, clarify the types of providers we’re graced with, and define the types of care they offer.
The provider profile for our nation’s rural hospitals has changed dramatically in the last two decades as physicians increasingly chose urban practice locations and specialty care, causing a 20% reduction in primary care provider numbers. According to the National Rural Health Association, there are now an average of 39 primary care providers per 100,000 people throughout the rural US, as compared to 52 per 100,000 just 20 years ago. This reduction means that the healthcare industry is now looking at a looming shortage of primary care providers, to the tune of 50,000 over the next decade. Further, rural practitioner shortages contrast starkly with urban areas that have a relative excess of providers in nearly all specialties.
In the past, physicians provided the great majority of medical care for rural communities; now, it is increasingly common for physicians to work in collaboration with a nurse practitioner and/or physician assistant to provide team-based care. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants have received advanced education and clinical training, and have become integral members of medical care teams across the country. They improve access to care, which is especially important in rural communities like ours, and enable a more collaborative, team-based care model.
Another concern I frequently hear about is the perceived lack of providers for children. This is where Family Practice Physicians come in. They are primary care practitioners who have been trained to provide care to patients across all age groups, including prenatal care and well-woman care, pediatric care, and all manner of acute illness care. If a patient needs a specialist referral, a family practice doctor supports that specialist in understanding the whole patient. Dr. Robyn Restrepo recently joined us in August as the first Hospitalist at Highlands-Cashiers and will also provide community support as another Family Practice Physician.
I’m excited that we’re continuing to build our primary care base and also extending specialty care access to more people, creatively. We added our first satellite specialty clinic in October, with the arrival of Franklin-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Moriarty, from Angel Medical Center. We’ve established more walk-in clinics with expanded hours of availability and same-day appointments, because we know that illness rarely strikes when it’s convenient. I’m proud that HCH and our affiliated practices are also home to five board-certified physicians, two physician assistants and one nurse practitioner.
As we enter the holiday season, I want to acknowledge our talented and dedicated providers, who partner with our care team to make the Highlands and Cashiers communities stronger and healthier.
Please see mission-health.org/primary-care.php  in order to access our primary care physicians, and to learn more about our specific primary care provider profiles.