The first meeting of Georgia’s Senate Study Committee on Rural Personnel Recruitment was held Wednesday.
The Committee, chaired by Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, was assembled to discuss Georgia’s shortage of rural healthcare workers. It was created by Senate Resolution 371 during this year’s legislative session, and includes four other members of the State Senate: Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain, Sen. Nan Orock, D-Atlanta, Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, and Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry.
Healthcare providers in rural Georgia face several challenges in finding and maintaining quality staff that range from rural economics to healthcare management.
Speakers before the Committee included administrators in the Department of Community Health and the Department of Public Health, health system employees and other advocates. They shared their recommendations on recruiting and retaining healthcare workers in areas where they are most needed.
One presenter from the State Office of Rural Health referred to a map that showed clusters of Georgia counties with no hospitals nearby, demonstrating the persistent access gap felt by rural Georgians. Barriers to recruitment and retention commonly brought up by the speakers included inadequate funding, transportation issues, safety concerns in the healthcare field and a lack of growth and development in rural areas.
Speakers also suggested a wide range of solutions to optimize hiring and retention including marketing dual enrollment and other fast start programs to students, creating additional scholarship programs, tax incentives, loan repayment programs and providing subsidies where need is greater.
Some of the topics that came up over the six-hour committee meeting fell in familiar territory to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Scope of practice, allowing healthcare professionals such as physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses to practice to the full extent of their education and training, was recommended to increase access. We published a study last year on the benefits of expanding scope of practice.
Another topic discussed, albeit a less popular one in this group, was the push to repeal certificate of need (CON) laws. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation has highlighted these laws as barriers to access, however some believe their repeal would threaten rural hospitals. Our 2023 study of CON explores how these regulations affect healthcare access.
While much of this Committee meeting was focused on explaining the issue, two more meetings are expected to take a more detailed approach at solving rural recruitment and retention problems. A second meeting is scheduled for October 24 at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, and a third will take place in November or December, according to Hatchett.