BATON ROUGE — The federal government plans to expand investments in pay incentives for doctors and other health care professionals to work in Health Professional Shortage Areas throughout the country, including here in Louisiana. 

Provided by the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program, the $200 million initiative will provide up to $50,000 in tax-free incentive payments to health care workers who agree to provide their services for two years in areas experiencing health care shortages. Louisiana has 170 openings at National Health Service Corps community sites that need to be filled.  The National Health Service Corps recruits fully trained health professionals who agree to provide health care services in underserved areas.  In return, the program assists in the repayment of qualifying educational loans that are still owed.

Applications are currently being accepted for physicians, nurse practitioners, midwives, physician assistants, dentists, dental hygienists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, psychiatric nurse specialists, marriage and family therapists, and licensed professional counselors.

“Many Louisianans struggle with access to health care services,” said LDH Secretary Alan Levine.  “Of the 64 parishes in our state, 53 of them are entirely designated as shortage areas for primary care providers and 10 others are partial shortage areas.  This means that 63 of 64 parishes don’t have enough primary care providers.”

Levine also noted that 60 parishes don’t have enough mental health providers and 58 parishes don’t have enough dental health care professionals.

 “This program has the potential to fill the void in health care providers and help stabilize our health care workforce,” he said.

Fifty-three health care providers in Louisiana are currently participating in the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program.  More than 3,300 are participating nationwide.

Criteria for being considered as an applicant include working in a National Health Service Corps community site; participating in Medicaid, Medicare and State Children’s Health Insurance Programs; accepting all patients regardless to their ability to pay; and committing to two years of full-time outpatient clinic service.

Applications will be accepted through September 30, 2010 with periodic review and award cycles.  The first cycle for application review is July 16, 2009.  Applications will be rewarded on a first come, first served basis.  For more information and for an application, visit www.nhsc.hrsa.gov/loanrepayment. This initiative is part of the American and Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visithttp://www.dhh.louisiana.gov.