New residency program seeks to improve health in Coachella Valley

William Huynh/HIGHLANDER
William Huynh/HIGHLANDER

UCR’s School of Medicine has announced that it will begin a three-year residency program centered in the Coachella Valley starting in 2015, a move that will further expand the fledgling school and provide more medical care to residents in the region. The announcement comes after the program was granted accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in early January.

“We are pleased to be launching this new residency training program in the Coachella Valley, where there is a demonstrated serious shortage of primary care doctors,” Dean of the School of Medicine G. Richard Olds said to UCR Today. “We plan to add residency training programs in other medical specialties in the years to come.”

The program will accept eight students every year for residency periods of three years, with the first class graduating in 2018. The School of Medicine will be partnering with Desert Regional Medical Center, where students will complete their residencies. The center itself is being leased to Tenet Health Systems by the Desert Health Care District, a public agency responsible for providing health care to the Coachella Valley region. The district provided the medical school with a $5 million grant to begin establishing the residency programs and for outreach to local students.

The School of Medicine has already developed residency programs to situate students in areas of high medical need, including hospitals in Temecula and elsewhere in Riverside via pipelines like Future Physician Leaders.

The program also intends to increase the number of primary care physicians in the region. There is a special emphasis on developing family medicine, a type of primary care where physicians coordinate patient care among other doctors, each of whom have their own specialties.

Riverside County lags behind the rest of California in a variety of key health indicators, including infant mortality rate and primary care physician-to-patient ratio. The School of Medicine’s mission statement explicitly says that its goal is to serve the Inland Empire, and Olds has said that his goal is for the medical school to provide medical care to residents of the community.

However, the Coachella Valley faces health care problems that are more serious than those of Riverside County as a whole. According to a 2013 report by the Health Assessment Resource Center (HARC), 33.6 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 do not have health insurance, a number that increased from 22.5 percent in just two years. 16.4 percent of adults fall under the two lowest categories of health, “fair” and “poor,” compared to 15.9 percent for Riverside County. The number of residents diagnosed with respiratory and bone diseases also increased from 2007 levels.

Moreover, although poverty rates in the Coachella Valley are comparable to Riverside County’s as a whole, poverty among those younger than 18 in the Coachella Valley is a staggering 48.7 percent, more than double Riverside’s 22 percent youth poverty rate.

The residency program will work to emphasize family medicine and improve the primary care physician-to-patient ratio, and medical school officials expressed optimism that the residency program would improve health in the Coachella Valley.

“Family medicine will remain pivotal in addressing the healthcare needs of both our region and our nation,” Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Gemma Kim stated.

“It will be a wonderful experience for our current physicians, our nurses, our staff and — most of all — our patients,” Carolyn Caldwell, CEO of Desert Regional Medical Center agreed.

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