S&S?Medical officer says area is up to the challenge of recruiting new physicians

Gwen Chamberlain
Jose Acevedo M.D.

With a long-time area surgeon planning his relocation to Clifton Springs and another primary care physician planning retirement, it’s clear to see why people in the area are concerned about the number of medical doctors who are available and ready to take on new patients here.

Those concerns don’t stop with folks in the Penn Yan community, says Jose Acevedo, M.D., vice president, medical affairs and chief medical officer at Finger Lakes Health, which owns Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital.

He’s one of the first to recognize that people in the community are worried that they may need to commute 35 to 40 minutes to see a doctor, and he says he and the hospital administration are doing all they can to bring doctors to the area. It’s not a simple process, and there is a lot of ground to cover, but he feels they have made progress, despite trends showing doctors leaving the area and the state.

“I want the community to know that no matter what changes occur in the future, we’ll have enough physicians to provide the care locally in primary care practices affiliated with Soldiers & Sailors to support the community and support the hospital,” he says.

“I think we’re going to be able to find the number of physicians we’ll need,  then we need to create a system for the years to come,” he adds.

Acevedo is a hospitalist, a physician who is hired by a hospital to manage the care of patients who are in the hospital. He says across the nation, more doctors are turning to that profession, continually adding to the trend away from primary care office-based physicians.

Acevedo says he would like to attract three more primary care physicians to the Penn Yan area to work with the group of physicians that have been recruited to work in the emergency and surgical departments at the hospital.

But it will be an uphill challenge.

Statistics from the 2007 edition of the Annual New York Physician Workforce Profile, recently released by the University of Albany illustrate the trends that impact how the public receives care from physicians:

• The Finger Lakes Region was one of the regions with the slowest growth in physicians, with less than a 2 percent increase of physicians overall between 2002 and 2006.

• From 2005 to 2006, the number of physicians practicing in Yates County declined from  37 to 32.

• In 2005 there were 148 physicians per 100,000 in population in Yates County

• In 2006 there were 129 physicians per 100,000 in population in the county

• But in Monroe County, there were 343 physicians per 100,000 people in 2006, up from 313 per 100,000 in 2005.

• While the number of physicians in the Finger Lakes Region increased overall between 2005 and 2006, the numbers declined in Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates Counties. 

• Of the 79,451 licensed physicians in New York in 2006, 79 percent (62,770) were active patient care physicians. Of these, 72 percent were located in downstate, and 91 percent were in urban counties.

Commenting on statistics from another University of Albany report on the demand for new physicians in New York, Jeane M. More, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies, says, “There is growing concern about an emerging shortage of physicians nationwide. New physicians, particularly those who train in the state, are an important source of  New York doctors.”

With only half of the physicians in that study indicating they  will be staying in New York State, she adds, “It is critical to understand why new physicians are leaving the state and use this information to develop strategies that will retain the ones we need.”

There are scores more studies, tables and pages of statistics analyzing the situation on a state and nationwide scale, but Acevedo is focused locally, and despite the numbers, he’s optimistic.

He says one new surgeon, Dahlia Alspaugh, is already seeing patients in Penn Yan and another surgeon is expected to begin seeing patients here in mid-May.

He says a rural practice holds a special appeal, and the Penn Yan area has a lot to offer physicians. It’s a matter of finding the right fit.

He says looking for certain values in a doctor during the recruitment process help. Among those values are being able to recognize the need to perform at their best all the time. “Because they go into the grocery store and see their patients,” he says, explaining a doctor in a smaller community needs to be able to say “I’m sorry,” sometimes.

But, he adds, a small rural community offers doctors a lot of challenges and rewards.

“We need board certified emergency department physicians who can handle anything. In this community we have farm accidents and then in the summer we get flooded with tourists and see injuries from water sports then in the winter there are falls. These all require a unique set of skills,” he says. To address that need, the hospital successfully recruited several emergency department doctors from Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, a move that means the health system won’t need “locum tenens” or temporary physicians in the emergency department.

The rewards for new doctors coming to the community include an opportunity to get to know patients more. He says here, people thank you for being kind and personable. In urban areas, there’s a feeling of entitlement and people say they feel more like a number.

He says doctors thinking about moving to the area are particularly interested in the school system, so having Penn Yan School Superintendent Ann Orman on the hospital board helps. Then they look at real estate, day care and other quality of life areas. “What works best is when people (in the community) are naturally friendly and go the extra mile so we’ll get a benefit from this effort,” he says.

He says he sees a reminder of the need to go the extra mile regularly.

When he goes from the hospital to his office, he passes by the plaque listing all the “soldiers and sailors” to whom the original hospital was dedicated.

“I’m not going to let this hospital stop providing the care in their honor. They (new doctors) may be new faces coming in, but that’s OK because they will be bringing a new energy,” he says.