In 2015 the Rhode Island Statewide Health Inventory uncovered a significant gap in the availability of primary care providers in our state. Subsequent reports show that Rhode Island still has substantial healthcare workforce shortages. On average, there is only one, full-time primary care provider for every 1,718 Rhode Islanders. Despite our state’s challenges with mental health and substance use disorder, 89% of RI cities and towns have fewer than one psychologist per 1,000 people. Furthermore, the shortage among dentists is expected to become more critical in the near term given that 57% of the currently practicing dentist workforce is of retirement age. The scarcity among primary care disciplines has led to longer wait times in accessing care. When patients struggle to find a primary care provider, they are less likely to access care and screenings that can improve health outcomes. Addressing this gap will be important for improving the health of all Rhode Islanders. The RI Health Professional Loan Repayment Program (RI HPLRP) is a critical component of the state’s efforts to increase primary care access and reduce health disparities and is essential to recruiting and retaining primary care providers to work with vulnerable populations statewide. Other initiatives in response to the health workforce challenges in the state have specifically targeted an increase in the availability of community health workers. While critical to the transformed health care system envisioned, these efforts do not address the provider workforce shortages in RI. As a result, all health disciplines eligible under the federal State Loan Repayment Program guidelines are eligible for the RI HLRP. In addition, all Health Professional Shortage Areas will be considered equally for awards; however, applicants who work at an eligible site with a greater than 50% Medicaid patient population will be given the highest priority in the scoring of applications. As a current
Bureau of Health Workforce State Loan Repayment Program grantee, the Office of Primary Care & Rural Health, RI Department of Health, develops and sustains multiple significant collaborations with key internal/external partners that ensure that the state’s primary care workforce is sufficient to meet the needs of the population, particularly vulnerable, underserved residents. To address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis in the state, the RI HPLRP will leverage its stakeholder to best engage local health professional educational institutions to promote awareness of RI HPLRP among soon-to-be graduating master-level mental health counselors that will be entering the workforce. Our partners recognize the value of the RI HPLRP in recruiting and retaining a skilled health workforce in RI and to this aim have allocated private funds to allow the state to continue to offer the program in RI. The RI HPLRP is administered jointly by the RI Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Division of Higher Education Assistance (DHEA) within the RI Office of the Post-Secondary Commissioner. RIDOH and DHEA work closely with the RI HPLRP Board to disburse funds to eligible primary care providers working in non-profit healthcare facilities in health professional shortage areas, statewide. Programmatic activities include providing technical assistance to participating sites and providers, monitoring program compliance, facilitating provider/site negotiations to prevent default, processing applications, and disbursing funds approved by the RI HPLRP Board. The proposed annual budget for loan repayment awards by the RI HPLRP in response to HRSA-22-048 Notice of Funding Opportunity is $1,560,000.00 ($1,000,000 in federal funding request / $560,000 from non-federal sources). This request is expected to support a minimum of 40 providers annually. It should be noted that since the inception of the program, no RI HPLRP participant has been found in default of a contract.