Hospitals call for $15M fund to attract practitioners to Delaware

May 25, 2021

The membership of the Delaware Healthcare Association is calling for the establishment of a medical loan repayment fund in the amount of $15 million.

The fund would be a one-time appropriation to be used over multiple years as a recruitment tool to attract primary care providers, including behavioral health providers, to provide access to these crucial health services in underserved areas of the state.

It is envisioned that the fund would be in two parts: $10 million to focus on primary care providers and $5 million to focus on behavioral health care providers with an emphasis on pediatric behavioral health.

“The need is great, the money is here, and the time is right,” said Wayne A. Smith, president and CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association. “Primary care is the gateway to better physical and mental health. There are too many underserved areas of our state which lack access to primary care and behavioral health services. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address a great issue in a decisive way. We need to seize the moment,” Smith said.

House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst said she supports this initiative, particularly with its focus on behavioral health. “As HB 100 brings more mental health services to students, the need for providers will increase. This fund would greatly increase the ability to attract the providers we need to better serve students,” Longhurst said. HB 100 will increase school counselor, school social worker, licensed clinical social worker and school psychologist presence in K-5 schools. 

The crisis that exists in lack of behavioral health providers has been exacerbated by the pandemic as people have experienced severe and prolonged disruption of routines and extended social distancing.

Particularly concerning are the great difficulties which exist in obtaining needed behavioral health services for children.

Recognizing the prudence of the governor and General Assembly in not adding on-going budget items during surplus years, this fund is contemplated to be a one-time appropriation.

Broadly, the fund would reward practitioners who come to Delaware and serve in areas of need by paying off debt incurred during the practitioner’s education.

Ideally, the fund would follow some of the parameters of legislation currently before the House Appropriations Committee (HB 48). Award size, term of commitment, eligibility criteria and priority for DIMER students lend themselves to a larger fund than proposed in the current legislation. Funding mechanisms and participation levels should be discussed in light of the significant increase in fund size contemplated.

Smith added that the accumulation of dollars available to the state through a rapidly rebounding economy, CARES Act funds and the American Rescue Plan Act have increased dollars available to state government to unseen levels. State financial forecasters expect to end the current fiscal year ending June 30 with a $875.2 million surplus. They also raised the forecast for FY 2022 by an additional $238.4 million from their previous meeting.

The membership of the Delaware Healthcare Association includes all the state’s general acute care and pediatric hospitals, behavioral health hospitals and rehabilitation hospitals.

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