Maui News

US Sen. Schatz Reintroduces Bill To Address Surgeon Shortage; Maui Has 43% Scarcity

May 17, 2021, 11:59 AM HST
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US Sen. Brian Schatz has reintroduced the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act. File Photo Courtesy: Maui Region staff.

US Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and John Barrasso (R-WY) reintroduced the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act, bipartisan legislation that would produce high quality data on where general surgeons are in short supply around the country.

On Maui, there is a 43% shortage of surgeons needed to serve residents on the island, forcing many to travel off island to receive needed care. For the state of Hawaiʻi overall, there is a 23% shortage in general surgeons, according to a news release from Sen. Schatzʻ office.

“We have a doctor shortage crisis in Hawai‘i, and it’s having a real impact on families living in hard-to-reach areas across the state,” Sen. Schatz said. “Our bill will help us better understand where the shortages exist so that we can work to bring more doctors and surgeons to the communities that need them most.”

The Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act would direct the US Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study on access by underserved populations to general surgeons and the designation of general surgery shortage areas. Such an area is defined as an urban, suburban or rural area of the United States with a population that is underserved by general surgeons.

Dr. Kelley Withy, Professor, AHEC Director, and Hawai‘i Physician Workforce Researcher for the University of Hawai‘i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, said: “In an island state like ours, or any rural area, access to general surgery is essential. It is very difficult to transfer a patient with a surgical emergency, so without a surgeon, even simple cases such as appendicitis, can result in unnecessary death.”

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American College of Surgeons Executive Director David Hoyt, MD, FACS, said: “Determining where patients lack access to surgical services and designating a formal surgical shortage area will provide the Department of Health and Human Services with a valuable new tool for increasing access to the full spectrum of high-quality health care services. Incentivizing general surgeons to locate or remain in communities with workforce shortages could become critical in guaranteeing all Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of geographic location, have access to quality surgical care.”

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Whitney Limm MD, FACS, Governor of the Hawai‘i Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, added: “As a practicing general surgeon in Hawai‘i for 30 years, I know that access to general surgery services is critical to improving health outcomes and saving lives. The current supply of general surgeons will not be able to keep pace with our growing and aging population. This legislation will help determine which areas in Hawai‘i are most in need and how we can best target effective solutions so that everyone across the islands has access to high quality surgical care regardless of where they live.”

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