The federal Health Resources and Services Administration recently approved 64 new health professional shortage areas in Louisiana. This designation will allow Louisiana to draw more state and federal health care resources to the state.

“Accurately identifying Louisiana’s health professional shortage areas was already an ongoing effort of Governor Blanco’s Health Care Reform Panel, and with the hurricanes and rapidly changing population of our state, this effort became more critical than ever to develop health care resources,” said Department of Health Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise. “With the support of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, LDH worked closely with the federal government to obtain these extremely important health care designations.”

Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the displacement of citizens, the DHH– Bureau of Primary Care and Rural Health reviewed all affected areas to determine whether there were shortages of health care professionals. The Bureau’s research indicated that the seven parishes directly impacted by the hurricanes lost an estimated 650,000 residents, including many health care providers from the affected areas. Residents of these affected parishes have lost their medical homes because doctors have left the area.

The new health care professional shortage designations are in the 33 Louisiana parishes declared disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some parishes already were designated as shortage areas prior to the hurricanes, while others have either obtained new or additional shortage designations because of shifting populations.

“Two of the priorities of Louisiana Recovery Authority are to restore essential health care services and recruit back and retain our health care providers,” Cerise said. “These new designations further both efforts.”

The parishes designated with health professional shortage areas are those that have too few health professionals to serve the general, low-income or Medicaid populations of the area, based on federal guidelines. Areas are evaluated in three main categories – primary care, dental and mental health.  Each designation is based on the ratio of primary care physicians, dentists or psychiatrists to the population of a given area. 

Health professional shortage area (HPSA) designations qualify areas for number of programs including 10% Medicare bonus payments to physicians, the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment and Scholars Programs, the J-1 Visa Waiver Program, the State Loan Repayment Program and recruitment services through Med Job Louisiana.  HPSAs are also a factor for areas seeking rural health clinics or federally qualified health centers.