BARSTOW Hospital officials are seeking more primary care doctors and other healthcare specialists and pursuing a government designation that would give physicians extra incentive to see Medi-Cal and Medicare patients locally.

Barstow Community Hospital is currently recruiting obstetricians, gynecologists, urologists and family practice doctors, according to spokesman John Rader.

Hospital officials are also applying with the state and federal governments for Barstow and surrounding communities to be designated a healthcare professional shortage area. If approved, the designation would cover Barstow, Yermo, Daggett, Lenwood, Nebo Center and Oro Grande.

The hospital hired the services of HFS Consultants, an Oakland-based firm, three weeks ago tol prepare and submit the application to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. The Shortage Designation Branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Humane Services must also approve the application, said Steve Rousso, principal for HFS Consultants.

If the Barstow area is designated a healthcare professional shortage area, doctors who see Medicare patients would be reimbursed an additional 10 percent from Medicare. It would also make it easier for Barstow to recruit foreign-trained doctors, Rousso said.

Doctors working in a healthcare professional shortage area are often eligible for school loan repayment programs. And it would be easier for non-profit organizations to open a rural health clinic, Rousso said.

"It makes it easier for rural areas to recruit physicians," he said. "The federal government wanted to induce physicians to relocate to rural areas, especially if they were underserved."

Rousso and his firm are determining the number of hours each local primary care doctor spends with patients at his or her practice. This information is important to getting the designation approved.

The criteria for establishing a healthcare professional shortage area is the community's population versus the number of doctors that practice in the area. There are also different types of designations, Rousso said. Barstow Community Hospital is hoping to obtain a geographical designation. There are also designations based on the number of low-income residents compared to the number of doctors that serve them.

The hospital will announce if its recruitment effort was successful once the physicians are secured, Rader said. Barstow Community Hospital is competing with communities across the country, he said.

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