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N.H. health care worker shortage

NASHUA – New Hampshire faces a shortage of more than 2,000 health care workers, so medical professionals and government leaders are trying to address the problem.

These shortages extend their reach to every county across the Granite State and are limiting access to services. This is why a group of health care providers and stakeholders, New Hampshire Health Care Workforce Coalition, have been coming together during the last six months to piece together a legislative proposal aimed at bringing more health care providers into the workforce. That bill, SB 308, will go to a public hearing in the state Senate today, and it proposes a number of changes to increase workforce, including raising Medicaid reimbursement rates, investments in the State Loan Repayment program, expansion of Telehealth eligibility, a streamlined background check system and other areas intended to bring more professionals into the state’s health care workforce.

With hundreds of vacancies in the Nashua area, professionals already working in the field are finding it difficult to keep workers from crossing over the border into Massachusetts where there is more money to be made.

“We have a number of provider vacancies, some of which take, frankly, a year or more to fill,” Lamprey Health Center CEO Greg White said.

He said Lamprey Health Center would particularly like to have a family physician interested in prenatal work, adding that it tends to be a challenge to fill those roles. He also said the behavioral health workforce is very difficult to fill, including the licensed independent clinical social workforce, mental health workers and licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselors. He also said they are seeing a lot of challenges on the providing primary care.

He said filling vacancies has always been something they have experienced. However, they have been fortunate in that some providers have worked there for several years. However, as those folks get further along in their careers, some are starting to retire, which is making it more difficult to replace them.

“Certainly, it’s a competitive environment to recruit providers,” White said.

He said any opportunity that gives Lamprey an ability to provide loan repayment is huge in terms of the ability to attract and retain those workers, many of whom make their way to Massachusetts for work each day. This raises the question for White: How do we get the folks that are from here and going to school to come back?

“I would say New Hampshire is unique in its own way, where it’s near Boston, it’s got its own small cities, the seacoast, Nashua and Manchester and the mountains. Certainly, the outdoor aspect of New Hampshire is a great selling point,” White said.

However, he said students coming out of medical school, some with upwards of $250,000 in debt, will find compensation is higher south of the Granite State.

“So, it’s how do you be more competitive and leverage the resources you have to keep people here, or bring folks here from outside and get them to stay here,” White said.

With the state’s record low unemployment rate, and current strong economy, this workforce shortage is slowing the state’s economic potential. Also, with the elderly population growing larger than the workforce, officials believe action cannot be delayed any longer in addressing these vacancies. As it is, New Hampshire is one of the oldest states in the nation by age. Estimates show that by 2030, almost one-third of the state’s population will be over the age of 65.