Kentucky lost doctors during the pandemic

Published 2:22 am Friday, June 23, 2023

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Kentucky Lantern

The commonwealth lost nearly 600 physicians from 2019 to 2022, Kentucky Medical Association Executive Vice President Patrick Padgett told legislators in Frankfort on Wednesday.

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The loss of 590 physicians represents a $1 billion economic loss, Padgett said. It also means a hit to patient services.

And it happened during the deadly coronavirus pandemic that killed nearly 19,000 Kentuckians.

“We lost 590 physicians out of the state,” Padgett said before the Interim Joint Committee on Health Services, “at a time that we needed more physicians in the state.”

“That’s a big loss,” he added. “Physicians not only treat patients and try to maintain their health and make them healthier and make them more productive, but they are an economic driver in the state.”

A fall 2022 KMA survey showed many of the state’s physicians are dealing with increased levels of stress. The degree to which that affected their work varied. Most cited administrative burdens such as prior authorization requirements as a driving force behind their stress.

During the 2023 legislative session, legislators considered adding exemptions to the state’s prior authorization requirements, but the bipartisan bill was stuck in a committee..

Lawmakers did pass, however, a bill that will protect Kentucky doctors who seek mental health help from wellness programs. That law states those doctors do not need to report their participation in such a program. Their jobs will also be safe if they do so. Gov. Andy Beshear signed the bill in March.

“Three years ago, I would have come here to say that Kentucky badly needed more physicians,” Padgett said. “And unfortunately, the situation has only gotten worse. And we really need to work to not only bring in more physicians but keep the ones that we already have.”

Delanor Manson, the CEO of the Kentucky Nurses Association, said ongoing challenges in the next few years include improving the health care pipeline and retaining already-employed nurses.

“Healthcare is the engine for the economy,” Manson said. “And nurses are the engine for healthcare.”

Earlier in the meeting, Deputy Public Health Commissioner Connie White said that at one point in the pandemic “every COVID test in the state of Kentucky” was faxed to the department.

Staff then had to collect them and enter them by hand into a database, a chore that took “untold hours.”

“It was a waste of some very competent people’s time,” she said. For the next large health emergency, she said, data collection will need to be smarter by utilizing computers and more.

On the bright side, health departments have better collaboration as a result of COVID-19. And, she said, the state is stocking items like personal protective equipment and ventilators.

“You hate to wish that on the next century,” White said. “But we hope it doesn’t happen to us again where we have a novel or brand new virus develop that we’ve not been exposed to before as a human race.”