Health

Cedar Rapids Family Medicine Residency, created to address shortage, will close in July

Only 31 percent of residents in past five years stayed in community, officials say

(Gazette File photo)
(Gazette File photo)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A longtime Cedar Rapids-based medical training program, meant to address the shortage of family medicine physicians in the area, will be closing its doors permanently.

The Cedar Rapids Family Medicine Residency Program will be discontinued effective July 1, at the end of this academic year, Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint-St. Luke’s Hospital jointly announced earlier this week.

Both Cedar Rapids hospitals have supported the Cedar Rapids Medical Education Foundation, which was established in 1971 to oversee the three-year residency program, the stage of a physician’s training that follows medical school.

There are no other family medicine residency programs in Cedar Rapids.

The foundation was established to address the shortage of family medicine physicians in Cedar Rapids, operating with the hope that graduates “would stay and practice in the community,” according to a statement from the hospitals.

However, in the past five years only 31 percent of family medicine residents in this program have remained in Cedar Rapids after graduation, officials said.

“As a result, Mercy and St. Luke’s Hospital have developed robust recruiting programs to bring medical providers to the Cedar Rapids area,” according to the statement.

The decision will affect 21 current residents of the Family Medicine Residency Program, only seven of whom will finish their final semester and graduate this summer.

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Officials say the foundation’s program directors have posted notice of the closure on a nationwide residency program director listserv, and has reached out to program directors based in Iowa.

“So far we are told these communications have been encouraging as several programs in the state have expressed interest in adding some of the Cedar Rapids Medical Education Foundation residents to their programs,” according to a joint statement from Mercy and St. Luke’s. “In addition, the residents are encouraged to pursue leads on their own in locations desirable to them.”

The statement added that program slots are available in Iowa City, Waterloo, Mason City, Des Moines, Sioux City and Davenport.

Federal funding allocated to the Cedar Rapids Medical Education Foundation per resident as their sponsoring institution will travel with the family medicine residents, “which we hope will help these residents find placement,” officials said.

The closure also affects 12 faculty and staff members employed by the foundation. Local hospitals’ human resources department will work with these individuals to assist with their transition, according to the joint statement.

Safety net

Training sites of the three-year residency program include both Cedar Rapids hospitals, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Vinton Family Medical Clinic as well as the Eastern Iowa Health Center, a Federally Qualified Community Health Center that tailors its care to underserved populations.

The Cedar Rapids-based Eastern Iowa Health Center has been the outpatient continuity clinic for the program since the clinic was established in 2006, allowing family medicine residents to gain hands on experience by caring for the center’s patients.

As a Federally Qualified Community Health Center, the Cedar Rapids provider receives a higher federal reimbursement to be a “safety net provider” for underserved populations, such as low-income or Medicaid-eligible families.

Though they were separate organizations, Eastern Iowa Health Center officials said the Cedar Rapids Medical Education Foundation has been a collaborative partner in ensuring the organizations “together serve as a vital component of the community’s health care safety net.”

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“We are grateful for the years of partnership with Cedar Rapids Medical Education Foundation faculty and residents,” Eastern Iowa Health Center President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Lock said in a statement.

“They have served the community and underserved patients tirelessly and we are saddened by the news that the program will be closing.”

Eastern Iowa Health Center will recruit a mix of primary care providers to fill the vacancies caused by the foundation’s closing, Lock said in an emailed statement.

Due to the nature of a residency program, “their time in clinic is limited,” Lock said. “As a result, we will recruit the number of providers necessary to take care of the patients that are currently being seen by residents. Recruitment has already started.”

Lock said health center officials plan to continue working with training students in many disciplines, including nurse practitioners, nurses and dentists, among others.

Robust recruiting

The shortage of family medicine physicians and other primary care physicians is a nationwide issue that is expected to continue to worsen, according to recent research.

The United States will see a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032 as the demand for doctors grows faster than the supply, according to a 2019 study from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the accrediting body for all U.S. medical schools.

The projected shortfall of primary care physicians is expected to range between 21,200 and 55,200 physicians by 2032.

A growing older population is a likely to be a major factor driving demand for physicians, the report said. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Americans over the age of 65 will increase by 48 percent by 2032.

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“Additionally, the aging population will affect physician supply, since one-third of all currently active doctors will be older than 65 in the next decade,” the report stated. “When these physicians decide to retire could have the greatest impact on supply.”

Iowa, to maintain current rates of utilization, will need an additional 119 primary care physicians by 2030, according to research from the Washington, D.C.-based Robert Graham Center. That is a 5 percent increase to the state’s 1,996 total primary care physician workforce in 2010.

However, officials from both Cedar Rapids-based hospitals are confident their recruitment programs will fill the gap of family medicine physicians in the area.

“That’s how we’ve been able to successfully meet the physician needs of our community,” the joint statement said. “Mercy and St. Luke’s recruit two-thirds of all the family practice providers in our area. Both hospitals plan to continue those efforts.

“Both hospitals have robust recruitment programs and are able to fulfill the health care provider needs of the community,” the statement said.

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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