COMMISSION RESPONDS TO SHORTAGE OF PEDIATRIC SPECIALISTS: LAUNCHES PHYSICIAN LOAN REPAYMENT PROGRAM

Children and Families Commission Launches Innovative Program to Bring Pediatric Specialists to Orange County

IRVINE, CA – The Children and Families Commission voted unanimously today to launch a multi-year, physician loan repayment program for pediatric sub-specialists. The program is designed to increase access for children to specialized care in areas such as; neurology, endocrinology and orthopedics. The program tackles a growing problem in Orange County as a lack of qualified pediatric physicians and increased demand for specialty services creates a bottleneck for children that need specialized medical care. The pediatric loan repayment program – the first and only county-based program of its kind in California – will begin accepting applications for the program in January, 2010.

Pediatric sub-specialists who meet specified criteria and agree to provide care to children from birth to age 5 in Orange County, particularly children from underserved populations such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families beneficiaries, will receive $125,000 over a three year period to repay outstanding medical education loans.

Gregory Janos, M.D., President of the Children’s Specialty Care Coalition in Sacramento, commented, “We want to commend the Children and Families Commission of Orange County for recognizing the importance of recruiting and retaining pediatric sub-specialists in Orange County and throughout California. We think this is an excellent use of Proposition 10 funds. This critical loan program will help ensure that our state’s most fragile children will have access to the best care for their conditions.” The Children’s Specialty Care Coalition is an organization representing nearly 2000 pediatric sub-specialists in California.

Some of the specialty areas targeted by the new program are those which are experiencing the most severe shortages. Specialists practicing in neurology, endocrinology, orthopedics, developmental services and cranial-facial are scarce, and patients often wait months to see them. Extensive outreach efforts inside and outside of California will be pursued in order to identify qualified physicians.

The Commission has a long history of investing in programs that deliver direct services to Orange County’s youngest children. The new loan repayment program has the potential to have a powerful impact on pediatric specialty care in Orange County. Physician loan repayment programs currently exist in California but none are exclusive to one county nor do they focus singularly on pediatric sub-specialists.

“Healthy children have always been a Commission priority,” said Michael Ruane, executive director of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County. “Millions of dollars from Proposition 10 have been invested in health programs, from school nurses to community clinics, to ensure that all children have the opportunity to be healthy and ready to learn when they start kindergarten.”

Children’s access to health care has improved in Orange County due to the Commission’s support for primary care services. This access to primary care creates a demand for specialty care, as children are diagnosed through their primary care physician and sometimes referred to physicians specially trained to treat complex conditions and diseases. Waiting for months to see the specialist may complicate already difficult medical conditions.

“Our intention is to move quickly to increase access to specialty care services, and our goal is to bring at least half a dozen, new pediatric specialists to Orange County within the next three years,” Ruane concluded.

The new program is funded through 2012, and recruitment efforts will begin in January, 2010 with the intention of having at least two new physicians under contract by July 1, 2010. The Health Professions Education Foundation, which currently administers a number of health professions loan repayment programs in California, will administer and monitor the Orange County program.

About the Children and Families Commission of Orange County

The Children and Families Commission of Orange County oversees the allocation of funds from Proposition 10, which added a 50-cent tax on tobacco products sold in California. Funds help pay for education, health care and child development programs for children from the prenatal stage to age five and their families. The Commission’s goal is to ensure all children are healthy and ready to learn when they enter school. For more information, please visit www.occhildrenandfamilies.com.