Texas’ primary care doctor shortage has taken a sharp turn for the worse during the pandemic, and one rural family doctor is imploring state lawmakers to do something about it.
Dr. Adrian Billings is chief medical officer for Preventative Care Health Services, a health center with clinics in Alpine, Marfa and Presidio. He’s a primary care doctor and there aren’t anywhere near enough of them in Big Bend.
“There’s one family physician for 5,000 patients in the Big Bend area right now. That’s a delay of care,” Billings told the House Public Health Committee of the Texas Legislature this fall. “That means sicker patients, that means more costly or care. That means less productivity. That means more death.”
The federal government’s Health Resources and Services Administration classifies areas with fewer than one primary care provider for every 3,500 residents as Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSA’s.
Big Bend is definitely an HPSA, but according to research done by American Public Media Research Lab, Big Bend is hardly unique in Texas — and the pandemic isn’t helping.
“In 2019, 129 of Texas’s 254 counties identified as a shortage area for primary care providers. As of this July 2021, that number jumped up to 228. So it increased by 99 counties,” said Katherine Sypher, a data journalism fellow with the APM research lab.