Sutter Coast Hospital, Sutter Santa Rosa to Train New Doctors With Goal to Add More Primary-Care Physicians to Rural Region
CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is awarding Sutter Health a $750,000 grant to add a physician residency training track in Santa Rosa and Del Norte County in California’s North Coast as part of the federal agency’s efforts to provide better access to quality medical care in rural areas.
The HRSA Rural Residency Planning and Development grant will help not-for-profit Sutter Health begin a Family Medicine Rural Residency Training Track at Sutter Coast Hospital, in partnership with Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital’s successful Family Medicine Residency Program. Sutter Santa Rosa’s program will serve as the urban academic medical center for the first year of training, and Sutter Coast will be the rural setting as a teaching hospital, where the final two years of training will take place.
“Among the most important steps we can take to improve access to healthcare in rural communities is to invest in growing the rural healthcare workforce,” said HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson. The Sutter Coast Hospital grant, in partnership with Sutter Santa Rosa’s successful Family Medicine Physician Residency Program, “is another important part of the Health Resources and Services Administration’s strategy to advance health equity for the nearly 65 million people who call rural areas home,” she said.
According to the HRSA, nearly one in five Americans live in a rural area, and rural communities are becoming even more diverse. However, health disparities between rural and urban areas tripled between 1999 and 2019, with rural residents experiencing higher rates of heart disease, respiratory disease, cancer, stroke, unintentional injury and suicide; and higher risk of maternal morbidity and mortality. Access to quality healthcare is at the heart of these issues, Johnson said.
This grant is part of a larger $21 million multi-year initiative by HRSA to expand the physician workforce in rural areas by developing new, sustainable residency programs in family medicine, internal medicine and psychiatry.
Among the goals of the Sutter Health project is to develop a sustainable, accredited rural residency education program in the North Coast and help to ultimately expand the area’s rural primary-care workforce and help improve the health of its citizens. In Del Norte County, there is a high need for primary-care physicians (PCP) in the area. The ratio of the population to one PCP is 1,740-to-1, while the ratio throughout the state of California is 1,280-to-1, according to the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps website.
“Because of the strength of its integrated network, Sutter has created multiple residency and fellowship programs in primary care and specialty areas over the last two decades,” said Brian Alexander, Sutter Health’s Hospital Area CEO, North Valley. “By adding this residency program in Del Norte County, we can help address the shortage of family medicine providers that is being felt disproportionately in rural areas. We are working to strengthen the physician pipeline throughout our integrated network, so our patients receive the same high-quality care no matter what community they live in.”
The resident physicians will receive their first year of training and education in Santa Rosa and then spend their final two years of the residency program in Crescent City, handling physician rotations at Sutter Coast Hospital and Sutter Coast Community Clinic. The first two resident physicians are expected to begin their residency in 2025, with a total of six physician residents in the rural residency program every year by 2027 (four in Crescent City and two in Santa Rosa).
The Sutter Health Family Medicine Residency Program is based at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. It is a community-based program started in 1969 where 36 resident physicians in family medicine complete core inpatient training in Santa Rosa during the first year, with their next two years in practice as residency physicians. For more on the program, go to Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency. For the Rural Residency Training Track, resident physicians will receive their first year of training in Santa Rosa, and Sutter Coast Hospital and the Sutter Coast Community Clinic physicians will serve as the primary medical education staff in Del Norte County for the next two years.
The $750,000 grant comes three years after Sutter Health received a similar U.S. grant to begin a rural residency physician track in the Gold Country community of Amador County. Two resident physicians began their residency tracks in the county seat of Jackson, Calif., and at Sutter Amador Hospital this year. For more on that program, go to Needed: More Rural Docs; New Residents Part of Solution.
HRSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for improving health care to people who are geographically isolated, economically or medically vulnerable. HRSA programs help those in need of high-quality primary health care, people living with HIV/AIDS, pregnant women, and mothers. HRSA also supports the training of health professionals, the distribution of providers to areas where they are needed most and improvements in healthcare delivery. For more on HRSA, go to www.hrsa.gov.