With NH’s clinician shortage unequivocally amplified by the novel coronavirus pandemic, it is our duty to prioritize stabilizing our health care workforce in the FY2022-2023 State Budget. In 2019, the NH Legislature, Governor Sununu, and a coalition of over 50 health care organizations developed a historic, long-term strategy to bolster our state’s health care workforce, with $6.5 million added to the NH State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) to fill many clinician vacancies. On behalf of NH’s community health centers, we ask the Senate to fully fund the State Loan Repayment Program in the State Budget at the amount appropriated by the NH Legislature and supported by the Governor in 2019.
SLRP is a nationally acclaimed, tried-and-true program that our state’s community health centers, community mental health centers, critical access hospitals, and other community-based health care providers have utilized for years to attract health care professionals to rural and underserved areas.
With the added investment to SLRP in 2019, the number of SLRP recipients has almost doubled, from 50 to 89 clinicians. These dedicated clinicians deliver comprehensive and integrated primary care services, like oral health and behavioral health care, for which COVID-19 has created a growing and pent-up demand. Current recipients encompass a range of provider types, including many positions that are the hardest to recruit for: physician assistants, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners, licensed drug and alcohol counselors, and registered dental hygienists. Many of NH’s SLRP clinicians are the only providers of these services in town, as well as in their surrounding communities. Imagine where we would be this year without these clinicians whom SLRP has contributed to our workforce.
The NH Department of Health and Human Services has developed a plan to expand the type of clinical positions that are eligible for SLRP funding. Working closely with health care organizations across the state, DHHS determined that extending SLRP opportunities to private practice dentists, behavioral health staff, school psychologists, and registered nurses would be an excellent use of these funds to help further mitigate our pervasive workforce shortage, including an impactful nursing shortage.
This program is one of the paramount staples of community care. We have stories about clinicians – who SLRP brought in the door to the community health center setting – who famously end up staying at the health center for their entire careers out of love for their patients and the fulfillment of working in geographic areas where access to care is lacking and needed.
The advancement of SLRP in recent years has been enormously successful, allowing health centers to grow their teams with clinicians who are passionate about working in community care, and their patients and neighborhoods benefit from the added coverage. For this reason, we ask our Senators to build upon this valued program that puts the workforce behind community-based care.
Tess Stack Kuenning is president and CEO of the Bi-State Primary Care Association, which represents 14 New Hampshire community health centers.