Last week during a presentation to the Winter Haven Economic Development Council Board of Directors, Steve Nierman, President of Winter Haven Hospital announced the hospital’s next endeavor to increase access of care – the development of a Family Medicine Physician Residency Program, also commonly known as a Graduate Medical Education program. This is a big deal for Winter Haven and Polk County.
Every few years, community-based hospitals across the country access and analyze the most pressing health needs for the community they serve. Winter Haven Hospital’s Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) is a collaboration with a variety of community-based organizations in Polk County, including chamber members Central Florida Health Care and Polk State College. The latest CHNA identifies access to primary care as one of the greatest needs facing our community. The full CHNA report is available on WHH’s web site.
Polk County has a much lower primary care physician (PCP) to population ratio compared to the rest of the state and nation. In fact, our county is designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area for PCPs by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Our area also has a greater prevalence of residents that are underinsured or uninsured.
The Winter Haven Hospital Foundation, under the direction of Board Chairman Lance Anastasio and Foundation President Joel Thomas, commissioned an extensive feasibility study for how to improve access to primary care through a family medicine residency program. The findings were supportive, so WHH is moving forward with the first steps.
It's not a leap for anyone to understand that more physicians means better access. So how do we bring more primary care physicians, also known as Family Medicine, to Winter Haven?
After medical students graduate with their MD, they move onto a residency or fellowship training program in a specific area of medicine. Winter Haven Hospital is planning to develop a 3-year Family Medicine Residency program right here in Winter Haven. The program would accept 6 physicians per year. At full capacity, 18 physicians would be in the program and 6 per year would graduate. These resident physicians would provide a medical home for many of the underserved and at risk population in our community.
The Association of American Medical Colleges says that 78% of physicians who complete their medical education and residency in Florida, remain in the state to practice. Winter Haven Hospital’s goal is to retain at least 50% of its residency graduates to open or join a practice in Polk County – this could be working at the hospital, joining one of our area clinics like Gessler or Bond, or opening their own practice. Because the residents in training will improve primary care access for the underserved, they will treat patients who otherwise might seek routine primary care at Polk County hospital ERs.
In addition to physician residents, the program would include an additional 27 full-time employees including a program director and physician faculty. The program would be in partnership with a university medical school. There are 9 medical schools in Florida and the hospital is currently reviewing proposed partnerships with an announcement to be made soon. Intentions are to begin training the first six residents in July of 2019.
Winter Haven Hospital estimates that 14,000 patients can be seen per year through this residency program at maturity. Improved access and quality routine care equals a healthier Winter Haven.