Health Centers Identify Workforce Challenges as Barrier to Growth

March 15, 2016


Maureen Maxwell, (303) 913-9078, or

Angela Rose at (303) 867-9511 or

Health Centers Identify Workforce Challenges as Barrier to Growth

New Report Describes Current Challenges and Opportunities in Developing a

Strong Clinical Workforce in Underserved Areas

Denver, Colo. – A new report reveals that almost all Community Health Centers (95 percent) are currently experiencing at least one clinical vacancy, and more than two-thirds (69 percent) are recruiting for at least one family physician. The report, “Staffing The Safety Net: Building the Primary Care Workforce at America’s Health Centers,” issued by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), comes as Community Health Centers (CHCs) are serving Americans in greater numbers than ever before: over 24 million people, or 1 in 14 Americans.

In Colorado, CHCs provide a health care home for more than 650,000 – one in eight people in Colorado.

CHCs started more than fifty years ago as an experiment in President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Today, that pilot project has evolved into the largest and most successful primary health care system in the U.S. CHCs are proven innovators in addressing chronic disease, saving the nation’s health care system about $24 billion annually through effective patient care management and a reduction in the need for costlier care such as hospitalizations and emergency room visits. However, in spite of the historic growth in recent years among both CHC staff and patients, the challenge of recruiting, training, and retaining needed staff remains a persistent limiting factor when it comes to expanding access to care. This report shows that if all CHC clinical vacancies were filled today, two million more people would have access to primary health care.

As of March 10, Colorado CHCs have 29 family physician, four OB/GYN, 20 APRN/PA (advance practice registered nurse/physician assistant), and 11 Dental openings. In addition, CHCs have many openings for what is often perceived as “easier to recruit” providers. This creates challenges for CHCs.

In response to these challenges, including ongoing vacancies, CCHN and CHCs are working on strategies that help tackle the challenges of recruitment and access:

  1. Colorado CHCs are employing and more fully utilizing and integrating advance practice registered nurses and physician assistants (APRN/PAs) into care teams to manage their own panel of patients.
  2. CCHN manages leadership and skill development courses that enable staff of all levels to develop critical skills that result in strong decision making, influencing, emotional intelligence, and working at the top of their professional scope/job description.
  3. CHCs use incentive programs: the Colorado Health Service Corps (CHSC) was recently re-funded through a partnership with the Colorado Health Foundation and the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA). This program supports loan repayment awards, awarding five Colorado family physician residents each year who specifically commit to working in the safety net/CHCs, and moving forward, is working toward awarding more dental providers. Loan repayment is a proven strategy to both recruit and retain health care providers.
  4. Lastly, the state has invested funding in Rural Training Tracks that are aimed at training family physicians in rural areas. As the NACHC report states, physicians are likely to stay close to where they trained, and this is expected to hold true for Rural Training Tracks. Valley-Wide Health Systems, Inc., and Salud Family Health Centers will be taking residents in the next 12 months.

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 To interview Tanah Wagenseller, CCHN Senior Manager for Workforce & Training, about CHC recruitment and retention challenges and innovations, please contact Maureen Maxwell at (303) 913-9078,, or Angela Rose at (303) 867-9511 or

To view “Staffing the Safety Net,” please visit To speak with the analysts who wrote the NACHC report, contact Amy Simmons at (301) 347-0476 or

The Colorado Community Health Network (CCHN) is the unified voice for Colorado’s 20 Community Health Centers (CHCs) and their patients. CHCs provide a health care home for more than 650,000 of their community members – more than one in eight people in Colorado – from 61 of the state’s 64 counties. Without CHCs, hundreds of thousands of Colorado’s low-income families and individuals would have no regular source of health care. CCHN’s mission is to increase access to high quality health care for people in need in Colorado. For more information about CCHN, please visit