UNC to become regional center for research on health workforce

March 09, 2004

CHAPEL HILL -- The Health Resources and Services Administration's Bureau of Health Professions has awarded the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a cooperative agreement to become the Southeast Regional Center for Health Workforce Studies.

The agreement will provide $1.08 million to UNC's Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research over three years to fund a variety of research projects about health and health-care workers.

"We are very pleased with this agreement since it is further recognition of the fine work done by UNC's health sciences faculty and those at the Sheps Center in particular," said Dr. Thomas C. Ricketts, deputy director of Sheps. "The workforce center will enable us to continue to contribute to state and regional health workforce needs."

Ricketts and Dr. Barbara A. Mark, Sarah Frances Russell distinguished professor at the UNC School of Nursing, will co-direct the new facility.

"The center is in an ideal position to provide timely information to policymakers about critical health workforce issues to assure access to the full range of health-care providers, particularly for our country's most vulnerable populations," Mark said. "This is especially important given projections for burgeoning needs for health care as the baby boomers reach retirement age."

Research that goes on in a workforce center can help professionals and government officials anticipate the kinds of shortages seen recently in nursing and allied health field, Ricketts said.

"Right now we are seeing signs of an impending shortage of physicians in some specialties," he said. "Knowing this in advance helps shape policy and signal the market to adjust."

First-year funding will pay for five studies and start-up activities, according to Dennis Zaenger, research associate at Sheps and center manager.

One project will generate information on nursing employment patterns for different racial and ethnic groups in the Southeast to improve nursing recruitment and retention, Zaenger said. Dr. Cheryl Jones, associate professor of nursing, will lead that effort.

A second study, directed by Dr. Donald E. Pathman, associate professor of family medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, will concentrate on patients' experiences with health care.

"Dr. Pathman and colleagues will examine how people's use of outpatient services, their perceptions of access and barriers to care, their satisfaction with care and the quality of care they receive varies with the number of local physicians," Zaenger said.

Another project will investigate whether National Health Service Corps dental alumni are more likely than comparable dentists to continue to work in "safety net" settings and to treat Medicaid patients after completing their service obligations, he said. Dr. Thomas "Bob" Konrad of the Sheps Center will be principal investigator.

In a fourth project, Ricketts and colleagues will offer technical assistance to Southeastern states to develop primary-care service areas. They also will help interpret and apply revisions to rules that govern federal designations of medically under-served areas and work to support assessments of, and the supply of, allied health personnel.

Ricketts's team also will work to develop reliable and informative measures of the impact Health Resources and Services Administration programs and projects have.

With the award, the Sheps Center becomes the sixth health workforce studies group in the United States, Zaenger said.

Similar facilities are located at the universities of California at San Francisco, Illinois at Chicago, New York at Albany, Texas at San Antonio and Washington at Seattle. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee will comprise the new center's Southeast region.

For more information about the Southeast Regional Center for Health Workforce Studies, visit http://www.healthworkforce.unc.edu beginning March 10, or contact the center at 725 Airport Road, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27516 or 919-966-9985.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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