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Nearly every Georgia county faces a shortage of primary care providers

Workforce data through September of last year shows Georgia would need almost 700 additional primary care doctors to eliminate shortages.

Primary care physicians often work in family medicine as a patient's principal point of contact for medical issues and continued care.

According to federal standards under the Health Resources and Services Administration, only three counties in Georgia have enough providers.

The remaining 156 counties are considered Health Professional Shortage Areas, a designation to identify areas lacking health care access. A compilation of data from the Kaiser Family Foundation puts Georgia near the bottom for primary care needs met at a statewide level, at about 40%. About a third of Georgians, or 3.3 million, live in an area with a primary care shortage.

HPSAs are designated by geography, population type or facility, such as state prisons. In addition to primary care, there are dental and mental health care HPSAs.

Gov. Brian Kemp established the Healthcare Workforce Commission last year to help address an ongoing health care workforce shortage, emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The commission posted a final report on Jan. 3, 2023.

Commissioner of the Department of Community Health, Caylee Noggle, summarized the group's final recommendations during its last meeting in December.

“Maximizing our existing workforce … optimizing the education system, and then how we attract new talent into the field,” Noggle said.

According to the commission’s final report, though more than half of Georgia’s health care graduates stay in the state, many workers are set to retire. A growing number of uninsured and aging patients poses additional strains on the system.

* RELATED: How rural residency programs for doctors can help solve the health care shortage

Additional recommendations from the final report include establishing a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a steady increase in violence against health care workers through 2018, with multiple reports of aggression throughout the pandemic.

Expanding loan forgiveness opportunities for medical students who study in the state could also improve retention rates, the final report reads. The state currently funds a variety of loan forgiveness programs for licensed healthcare workers who commit to practice in rural and underserved areas.

This story comes to (the name of your outlet here) through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.