Spectrum Health, GVSU secure reform grants

October 8, 2010
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Grand Valley State University and Spectrum Health Hospitals are receiving nearly $5 million combined in two federal grants aimed at putting more shoes on the ground in primary care.

The Department of Health and Human Services awarded $1.79 million to GVSU to boost the number of students in the physician assistant program over the next four years. Spectrum received $3.49 million to add a family medicine residency program. The grants are funded under the Affordable Care Act’s Public Health and Prevention Fund, according to an HHS release.

The university will increase the number of students accepted annually into the 2.5- year program from 35 to 48 over four years, said Roy H. Olsson Jr., dean of the College of Health Professionals.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services divvied up $30.1 million among 28 physician assistant programs nationwide. The HHS expects to train 700 additional primary care physician assistants through the grant, with 600 of them out in the work force by 2015.

For three years, four students per year will receive a two-year scholarship and stipend totaling $44,000, Olsson said. He said the university plans to add a faculty member and adjunct instructors to accommodate the additional students.

More primary care providers are expected to be needed as changes are rolled out under health care reform, particularly with the expansion of Medicaid to higher-income families. Yet a dwindling number of health professionals choose to go into primary care, preferring higher paid specialties.

Olsson said about half of GVSU’s PA students go into specialties and half into primary care.  

“Its main purpose is to get more physician assistants into primary care, and as part of that, we applied for it,” Olsson said.

In the 2011-12 academic year, GVSU will add four slots to the program, Olsson said. GVSU will keep new admissions at 48 even after the grant ends, Olsson said. The college routinely sorts through more than 200 applications a year to fill the 35 slots, he said.

He said all entering students will have the chance to be considered for the scholarships and stipend.

“There will be some people that might not otherwise have been able to afford to come into the program that actually will be able to get in over the four years,” he said. “It’s a good deal for our students. It’s a good deal for our university because we should be able to attract some of the best and brightest students in the state.”

He said the GVSU grant proposal spelled out how the university will research whether the money helped to boost the number of primary care physician assistants trained by GVSU going into both urban and rural areas of West Michigan.

HHS awarded $167 million to 82 primary care programs to provide stipends for new doctors in three-year primary care residencies. The department expects the money will fund 889 new primary care doctors over five years, with 500 of them in the work force by 2015.

Dr. Peter Coggan, president and CEO of Grand Rapids Medical Education Partners, said planning began 18 months ago to locate an expansion of its family medicine residency program at Spectrum, which had agreed to fund and house a new teaching clinic. For decades, family medicine residents have been based at Saint Mary’s Health Care, with rotations at Spectrum facilities, Coggan said. The residency program is overseen by Dr. John VanShagen.

Currently, a total of 27 residents are in the program, but the grant will fund 12 additional slots at the rate of four per year for a total of 39 at the end of three years. The first four will enter the program next summer, he said.

“The expansion is keyed directly to the need for more primary care physicians in Grand Rapids and the West Michigan region,” Coggan said.

He said four doctors will be needed to instruct residents and run the program, and recruiting is underway. The program already has obtained the first of two accreditations needed from the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education, Coggan said.

“The grant doesn’t pay the total costs; it helps defray the costs,” said Dr. John Mackeigan, executive vice president and chief medical officer for Spectrum Health System. “It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to train a resident. The grant is helping to defray those costs and make it possible for us to be in the game.”

He said the hope is that residents who train in Grand Rapids will stay in Grand Rapids. Recent estimates indicate that the nation will be short 46,000 primary care doctors by 2020, Mackeigan said. He called the grant “a gift to the community.”

The University of Michigan received $960,000 under the same grant program.

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