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Health Center Wants to Keep Doctors in Harlem

By Jeff Mays | November 30, 2011 6:43pm
North General Hospital announced in late June 2010 that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Institute for Family Health opened at the facility.
North General Hospital announced in late June 2010 that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Institute for Family Health opened at the facility.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Because doctors tend to practice where they are trained, a new federally funded initiative from the Institute for Family Health aims to keep primary care doctors in Harlem by training eight of them here, starting next year.

The institute's Family Health Center at North General — one of 26 such primary care centers in the state — will begin training doctors in the Harlem Residency in Family Medicine in June 2012. The residency, funded through a "Teaching Health Center" grant, will become one of only a handful of health center-led residencies in the country.

The Family Health Center opened inside the existing facilities at the 200-bed North General Hospital last year, after the hospital announced that it was closing and declared bankruptcy in June of 2010.

"The institute has a strong track record of training family medicine residents who continue to practice in high-need communities. The addition of a Harlem-based residency program will allow us to attract more committed family physicians, many of whom will choose to stay here once their training is complete," said Dr. Neil Calman, president and CEO of the Institute for Family Health.

Dr. Eric Gayle, the institute's regional medical director for Harlem and the Bronx, said there was a high demand for effective primary care and preventative services at the center in Harlem, which saw more than 45,000 visits last year.

There is a national shortage of primary care physicians, who are considered the first line of defense in medical care. The number of primary care doctors has declined because they make less money than specialty care providers and have a much higher caseload.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Health Foundation, the number of medical students who want to become primary care doctors has dropped by half since 1997. Only 8 percent of medical school graduates go into primary medicine. Approximately 56 percent of patients visits are for primary care but only 37 percent of doctors practice primary care medicine.
Harlem is a federally designated health professional shortage area.

Communities such as Harlem are often disproportionately affected by a lack of doctors, due to having a high number of uninsured people and those who rely on government health insurance programs including Medicaid.

Where primary care physicians don't accept Medicaid, don't see patients without insurance, don't use a sliding fee scale or don't speak Spanish, patients tend to only use the emergency room, according to Maxine Golub, the institute's senior vice president for planning and development.

"They ... never get preventative care or health information from doctors visits, such as about losing weight or monitoring blood pressure," she added. "If everyone had a primary care doctor we would bring costs down by avoiding emergency visits."