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Recruiting, Training More Health Care Workers

There is a dearth of health care providers in California, and the demand for more highly skilled health workers will only increase when national health care reform goes into effect. That’s the word from Tom Riley, legislative advocate for the California Academy of Family Physicians, speaking at a Senate Health Committee hearing last week.

“We think the time has come for this to be front and center in the health care debate, the workforce issue,” Riley said. “This is a terribly important thing for us to be addressing.”

The proposed law, AB 2551 by Assembly member Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), would establish the Health Workforce Development Council, a task force charged with tackling how to recruit and train a new segment of the health care workforce.

To make this year’s legislative deadline at the end of August, it will need to move quickly. The Senate Health Committee passed it and sent it to the appropriations committee. If it can pass appropriations, it will need a two-thirds vote on the Senate floor, because it’s an urgency measure — meaning that if the Legislature approves it and the governor signs it, it would become law immediately.

According to bill author Hernandez, it couldn’t happen soon enough. As a physician himself, Hernandez said he has seen the world of medicine change rapidly, and he’d like the state to keep up.

“California has not been able to respond to these changes,” Hernandez said, “and we are ill-equipped to handle the new pressures on the health care system.”

The governor vetoed a similar bill at the end of the last legislative session. “But that was obviously before the national health care reform act passed,” Hernandez said. The difference now, he said, is that federal funds are available to start on health care workplace projects. That’s why Hernandez listed it as an urgent item.

“Now there will be federal dollars available in regard to workforce,” he said. “With passage of federal health care reform, the need for a coordinated health workforce development plan is essential to the success of overall health care reform in the state.”

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