Declaration can assist health pros in Jefferson County

STEUBENVILLE — The Ohio Valley Health Center has been designated as a site where volunteer physicians can apply for loan repayment as part of the designation of Jefferson County as a health professional shortage area.

The Health Resources and Services Administration on Tuesday officially designated the county as a shortage area. That means physicians practicing in Jefferson County can apply for repayment of outstanding medical school student loans, up to $25,000 per year.

Trudy Wilson, executive director at the health center, and Ryan Kline of the Ohio Department of Health have been working since the summer of 2016 to gather surveys from physicians in Jefferson County as part of the process.

“It’s wonderful to learn about Jefferson County’s designation as a health professional shortage area by HRSA,” said Wilson. “It took a long time to receive approval, but it may attract new physicians into Jefferson County to help with the shortage of overworked providers.”

She added that the county’s patient-to-provider ratio is 2,420-to-1 — compared to 1,300-to-1 for Ohio and 1,040-to-1 for top performers in the nation.

“There are so many people who need medical care in Jefferson County and not enough providers to bridge the gap. This is a huge win for Jefferson County,” Wilson added.

Wilson said the health center is an eligible site where physicians can see patients and have their volunteer time apply toward the requirements of physician student loan repayment.

“After working with the Ohio Department of Health to gather information for the application, we are thrilled to be included as an eligible site, and the center welcomes additional volunteer providers to see our uninsured patients,” Wilson explained.

She added that, according to the publication County Health Rankings — 2017, Jefferson County ranks 79th in health outcomes out of 88 counties in Ohio, with a 10 percent uninsured rate.

“This is in addition to the underinsured population who have Medicaid, but still do not have access to health care,” she added.

The health center provides primary health care services to low-income, uninsured and underinsured patients in the Ohio Valley, regardless of their ability to pay. The free clinic’s target population consists of patients within 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

Wilson said 51.11 percent of the population living in the 43952 ZIP code is considered to be low-income — within 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Approximately 29 percent of the population is at-or-below the poverty level.

“This HPSA designation is a great thing for patients in Jefferson County, as well as for new doctors who are looking for loan repayment options by practicing in designated areas. It’s a win-win situation,” noted Wilson.

For information about OVHC, visit ovhealthcenter.org. Information about the loan repayment program can be found at odh.ohio.gov/odhprograms/chss/pcrh –programs/recruitment/slrp.aspx.

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