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Report: Mental health care in short supply in Hall, Northeast Georgia
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Mental health care providers are in short supply across Northeast Georgia, according to a new report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Hall, Dawson, Forsyth, White, Jackson and Clarke counties all have provider shortages.

Lumpkin also needs more primary care and dental providers, according to the report.

And Rabun County also has a primary care shortage.

Growth and development is urbanizing Hall County, making it an attractive place for a growing workforce, according to local providers.

“Hall County is blessed by geography in a lot of ways,” said Sam Johnson, chief medical officer for Northeast Georgia Medical Center. “When you consider our proximity to Atlanta and the mountains, and access to Lake Lanier, it’s not difficult to attract health care providers to the area and keep them here — which can be a struggle for more rural communities."

But growing demand from a growing population keeps the pressure on to recruit and train new providers.

“Most of the counties with provider ratios below the statewide average are rural,” according to the GBPI report. “But health care provider shortages are not just a rural issue.”

Medically underserved areas have residents whose needs vary based on “age, physician specialty, cultural barriers and proximity to facilities,” the report states.

Nearly two-thirds of Georgia’s counties fall below the statewide average in number of nurses, physician assistants, total doctors and primary care physicians per 100,000 residents.

Forsyth, Gwinnett, Barrow and Cherokee are among 21 urban counties falling below the average.

And 89 percent of all counties do not meet the statewide average for doctors per 100,000 residents.

To grow workforce capacity and improve access, the GBPI report calls for new funding for medical residency programs and more investments in loan repayment programs for rural physicians.

Additionally, it urges lawmakers to consider higher reimbursement rates for providers who accept Medicaid.

Johnson said filling jobs and meeting patient demands is a process that needs continual improvement and includes working with other providers to “analyze population trends and needs and ... work together to ensure we’re recruiting the manpower so it’s in place before there’s a critical need.”

“We still have to be proactive, though, to stay ahead of the needs of the communities we serve,” he added.