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What’s driving Merced County’s ongoing doctor shortage and failing health grades?

What’s driving Merced County’s ongoing doctor shortage and failing health grades?

Picture of Monica Velez
Photo by Phalinn Ooi via Flickr.
(Photo by Phalinn Ooi via Flickr.)

People living in Merced County in California’s Central Valley have fewer choices for doctors and specialists than people in other parts of the state, which contributes to its low ranking on countless health-related reports.

Residents are more likely to be exposed to tobacco use, contract or worsen a respiratory disease because of poor air quality, or die of heart disease.

Children are more likely to live in poverty and be unsure of where they’ll get there next meal in Merced County. In some areas, access to fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce, especially in south Merced, which is home to five out of the 10 food deserts in the county

Women in the county are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage and not receive adequate prenatal care. When it comes to the overall well-being of women, Merced County ranks almost last compared to other counties in the state.

The doctor-to-patient ratio is so unbalanced that the entire county is considered a “professional shortage area,” according to a 2016 Community Health Assessment by the Merced County Department of Public Health. Public officials have said the main problem is getting doctors to come and stay in the area when there are more attractive and higher-paying jobs in places like Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

More than half of the county’s population is insured through Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, and that’s another feature of the county that stops doctors from coming to the area, health officials have said, since Medi-Cal doesn’t pay them as generously as other insurance providers.

After researching and speaking with patients, doctors, UC Merced professors and health officials, I came to realize that there has to be more to the problem than “Doctors don’t want to move here.”

For my 2017 California Fellowship project, I won’t be looking into the effects poor health access has on a community. Instead, I’ll be digging into how the health care system and health policies create barriers for the community.

I’m going to start by looking at federally qualified health clinics and the local hospitals to see if and where they are lacking in financial support.

I’m going to attempt to answer the “Why?” question as well. When an entire area is overlooked and deemed less healthy than most areas in the state for as long as Merced County has been, why hasn’t the local health care system changed?

It has been shown by countless studies that Merced County consistently has some of the state’s lowest health grades. What can be changed in the health care system to make it easier for individuals to obtain preventive care and consistent access to a physician?

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