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CT offers health care providers $50,000 to work in underserved areas

The program could mean shorter wait times for patients across the state.

John Craven

May 20, 2024, 9:13 PM

Updated 32 days ago

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If you’ve tried to get a doctor’s appointment, you know Connecticut doesn’t have enough health care workers. But a new program launched Monday is giving them 50,000 reasons to work in underserved communities like Bridgeport, Norwalk and Waterbury.
The program could mean shorter wait times for patients across the state.
“WORKING AROUND THE CLOCK”
Norwalk may be growing fast, but the federal government still considers much of it a “Health Professional Shortage Area.” In other words, there simply aren’t enough doctors and nurses.
And it’s not just Norwalk. Gov. Ned Lamont said he saw the burnout firsthand at a visit to Danbury Hospital.
“The nurses are still working around the clock,” he said. “And a lot of worries about mandatory overtime, and a lot of nurses wondering if they’re even going to stay in the profession or not.”
$50,000 LOAN FORGIVENESS
On Monday, Lamont launched an ambitious new program to lure desperately needed medical workers to health care deserts.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, the Department of Public Health commissioner. “Has anybody had a hard time getting an appointment with a behavioral health specialist, a primary care doctor?”
The Connecticut Student Loan Repayment Program will pay off up to $50,000 in student loans – if eligible medical providers spend the next two years working in an underserved area. In western Connecticut, those include Bridgeport, Central Norwalk, Stamford, parts of the Naugatuck Valley and much of Litchfield County.
And unlike federal loan forgiveness programs, Connecticut’s version also covers private loans.
UNDERSERVED AREAS
With the average medical school debt at $200,000, many doctors simply can’t afford to work in lower-income areas or as family practice physicians.
“It can also discourage graduating physicians from choosing to practice in underserved areas of our state, where they are needed the most,” said Dr. Stacy Taylor, president of the Connecticut State Medical Society.
Nurses also said it’s hard to make ends meet in underserved communities.
“When you’re carrying debt and trying to make decisions about where you work and the work you’re going to do, your income level and what you’re going to be able to make and provide does play into that,” said Kimberly Clear Sandor, executive director of the Connecticut Nurses Association.
WHO QUALIFIES?
Eligible providers include family doctors and OB/GYNs, mental health providers (including psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers), dentists, hygienists, nurses and pharmacists.
Hospitals said it could cut down on wait times for patients.
“Workforce shortages, which come in the wake of pandemic related demands and as the workforce ages to retirement, are felt across the entire continuum of care,” said the Connecticut Hospital Association in a statement. “Hospitals are creating new ways to support employee mental health, recruitment, and resiliency; and Gov. Lamont, state officials, and lawmakers have been steadfast partners in this work. This program is another important step to invest in the healthcare workforce and attract and retain talent in all communities.”
But Taylor said loan forgiveness is just the first step to keep medical providers from moving away.
“We are unable to keep the talent that we train in our state,” she said. “We must do more.”
For now, $12.5 million is set aside for the loan forgiveness program – enough to help at least 250 health care workers. All of the money comes from the federal government, mostly from pandemic-era American Rescue Plan dollars.
HOW TO APPLY
Health care professionals can apply starting on Wednesday, but they can’t collect the money until 2026. To apply, click here.


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