U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is urging congressional leadership to provide $67 million for the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The U.S. is currently facing a historic health care worker shortage that’s been exacerbated by the strains of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the problem is only expected to worsen. Experts estimate that the country could see a shortfall of as many as 124,000 physicians by 2034, and New York alone is projected to be short more than 39,000 registered nurses by 2030 and more than 650,000 critical health care workers, such as medical assistants and home health aides, by 2026. More than 5 million New Yorkers live in primary care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs); this figure exceeds the primary care HPSA populations of 46 other states.
“Over the last year and a half, our health care system and our health care providers have been under historic levels of stress. They have worked night and day – at great risk – to meet rising demand and keep their fellow New Yorkers safe and healthy, and they need reinforcements,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am urging congressional leadership to deliver $67 million to the AHEC program in order to address the health care staffing shortage and to recruit, train and build the next generation of health care workers.”
AHECs commit to diversifying the health workforce by recruiting a diverse population of youth to health care careers and facilitating the distribution of clinicians, especially in underserved and rural communities. Each AHEC places health professions students in a variety of real-world settings, such as migrant, urban, and rural community health clinics and health departments to provide health care to surrounding populations. With close to 50 years of operation, AHECs meet the current and emerging needs of the communities they serve through robust community-academic partnerships, with a focus on exposure, education, and training of the current and future health care workforce.
AHECs serve 85% of all counties nationally and support health care workforce development and education by training providers in interdisciplinary settings to respond to the needs of special and underserved populations. In New York State, there are three regional centers and nine AHECs statewide. Local New York Area Health Education Centers also work to address workforce shortages by introducing high school students to careers in health care and working with local nursing, medical, and physician assistant schools to provide students an opportunity to understand the social and cultural factors that influence an individual’s overall health and access to quality care.
Gillibrand continues to champion the implementation of Health Force: her landmark, multibillion-dollar public health legislation passed in the American Rescue Plan. Gillibrand successfully secured nearly $8 billion for her Health Force legislation – the Health Force, Resilience Force, And Jobs To Fight COVID-19 Act – to create a robust public health workforce to aid vaccine distribution and mobilize community leaders to improve health outcomes in their communities. It is imperative that vulnerable communities and health leaders have the resources and capability to distribute vaccines equitably and efficiently, and trusted messengers with whom they can talk through their concerns. In a recent letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Gillibrand pushed to ensure implementation of her ARP-passed provisions behind Health Force in Section 2501, the public health workforce provision, aligned with its original intent, including the implementation of labor standards and wages no less than $15 an hour plus benefits, and targeted hiring in underserved communities.
Read the text of the letter here and below:
Dear Chairs DeLauro, Leahy and Murray, Vice Chairman Shelby, and Ranking Members Blunt, Granger, and Cole:
As you consider Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) spending bills, I urge you to provide $67 million for the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program. The funding levels of $47 million for AHEC in the proposed Senate appropriations bill and $41.25 million in the proposed House appropriations bill is a good start, but I urge you to provide the full level of $67 million in your final bill. With such funding, each of the over 250 AHECs across the country would receive annual federal funding of approximately $250,000 which would allow them to expand their efforts to recruit, train, and retain diverse health professionals in the national health care workforce.
The devastating impact of COVID in our communities and within the healthcare delivery system is ever-present. AHECs have been critical in the continuance of access to quality health care in underserved communities, particularly primary and preventive care. Funding the program at $67 million would improve the ability of AHEC to address health disparities through virtual education and trainings for health profession students entering the workforce in this COVID environment.
AHECs are present in 85% of all counties nationally and support health care workforce development and education by training providers in interdisciplinary settings to respond to the needs of special and underserved populations. AHECs commit to diversifying the health workforce by recruiting a diverse population of youth to health care careers and facilitating the distribution of clinicians, especially in rural and underserved communities. Each AHEC places students in health professions in a variety of real-world settings, such as migrant, urban, and rural community health clinics and health departments, to provide health care to rural and underserved populations. With close to 50 years of operation, AHECs meet the current and emerging needs of the communities they serve through robust community-academic partnerships, with a focus on exposure, education, and training of the current and future health care workforce.
In New York State, there are two regional centers and nine AHECs spread across the state. One example of AHEC programming from 2020 includes the Brooklyn-Queens-Long Island AHEC facilitating virtual and experiential learning activities for high school students that focused on health disparities, including checking in on homebound seniors, updating outreach materials, vaccine outreach, and sharing public health approaches to community-specific health issues.
At a time when the country is facing health provider shortages coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we increase support to the AHEC program. The AHEC program brings more trained and skilled health providers into the workforce in a way that is responsive to local health needs. AHECs connect academic training programs with community-based outreach programs and, because AHECs are embedded in the communities they serve, they are positioned to recognize and respond to needs of vulnerable and underserved populations as such needs arise. Funding the AHEC program at $67 million provides critical opportunities to support AHECs as they work in the communities they serve to address the health workforce needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic; strengthen linkages between university health science centers and community health service delivery systems to provide additional training sites for students, faculty, and practitioners; increase the return on federal investment by leveraging state and local resources to meet the required 1:1 funding match in support of health workforce development; and expedite the transformation of the health care system by training the workforce for a value-based, patient-centered, team-based practice environment for innovative models of care.
We greatly appreciate your support for the AHEC program to ensure the health workforce is prepared to meet the country’s evolving and emerging health care needs. As such, we urge you to include $67 million for this important program in the final appropriations package for FY2022. Thank you for your leadership on this issue and consideration of this request.