A Quarterly Publication of City of Hope | Volume 18 Number 3 | Summer 2007

California’s other health-care crisis

By Assemblymember Ed Hernandez, O.D.
Soon after I was first elected to the California State Assembly in 2006, the governor announced his intention to make health-care reform his No. 1 priority. I felt my timing could not have been better. As a practicing optometrist, I could bring to the debate my unique perspective as a health-care provider from a low-income community of color.

Courtesy of Ed Hernandez

California Assemblymember Ed Hernandez

After being appointed to both the Assembly Committee on Health and the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, I indeed found myself at the heart of the health-care discussion. Although we passed a comprehensive health-care reform package out of the Assembly, the plan failed to win sufficient support in the Senate.

I was deeply disappointed when the measure failed; however, we had not addressed an underlying problem that would have undermined all our planned reforms. Quite simply, had we passed a package that provided quality, affordable health care to all Californians, we still would not have enough providers to serve everyone.

California is facing a health-care provider shortage of crisis-level proportions, and it is not confined to just one or two professions. A recent study completed by Health Workforce Solutions and the Campaign for College Opportunity showed that in just the allied health professions, demand for workers is expected to grow by 26 percent in less than a decade. This is due in no small part to an elderly population that is on track in California to increase by 75 percent between 2000 and 2020.

The provider shortage is especially acute in low-income communities and communities of color, where the need for quality health care is often the greatest and where linguistic and cultural competence is an absolute must for health professionals.

We can address this problem by creating a comprehensive health-care workforce master plan for California that brings together all the stakeholders in the process (including health-care professionals, hospitals, universities and colleges, and labor and community groups). The goal is to develop a longterm strategy for addressing the overall shortages in the health-care workforce, as well as the underlying issue of workforce diversity.

I authored Assembly Bill 2375 in 2008 with the intention to do just that. Although the bill stalled because of budget considerations, I intend to reintroduce it this next legislative cycle.

I also believe we can work to fill some of these shortages in the healthcare workforce by allowing our colleges and universities to actively recruit qualified students from those very same communities of color that seem to bear the brunt of the health-care workforce shortage.

Students from these communities are much more likely than anyone else to return home to pursue a job or set up a practice after graduating. That is why I have introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7, an amendment to California’s constitution that will allow public universities and colleges to consider race in their outreach and retention programs to help strengthen the numbers of qualified minorities in higher education.

We as Californians have a great deal of work to do if we are ever going to address our current and future health-care workforce needs. Working together, I believe we can not only strengthen our health-care system in California, but our economy and local communities, as well. We can open up a whole new world of career possibilities for thousands of young men and women throughout this state by engaging in a deliberate and collaborative effort to make the opportunities available to them.

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