Kaiser donates $2.4 million to shore up rural care

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Colorado’s rural areas are facing a serious shortage of health care providers — but Kaiser Permanente is giving $2.4 million to the University of Colorado at Denver’s Health Science Center to help train more medical professionals who will work in isolated areas the state.

The money will establish an Interdisciplinary Rural Training and Service Program, designed to be part of the schools of medicine, dental medicine and pharmacy. Students will practice together and train together — coordinating patient care in a way that they might do in rural areas.

The goal is to apply an integrated training approach to enhance care in Delta, Garfield, Routt, Jackson and other rural counties.

Seven counties in Colorado have no dentists, six have no full-time primary care doctors and one has no primary care doctor.

The effort is one of several.

C.U. Denver created a rural track four years ago to increase the number of students who practice in rural areas. The school of pharmacy places students in full-time internships throughout the state, and the dental school provides mobile services to Colorado’s remote areas.

Kaiser’s effort is different because it trains people in integrated medicine, said Dr. Jandel Allen-Davis, vice president of government and rural affairs for Kaiser.

The Colorado Rural Health Center also is dedicated to increasing the number of medical professionals throughout the state.

The group administers several scholarships and outreach programs to encourage medical students to consider practicing in areas without doctors, dentists and pharmacists. The programs are funded by The Colorado Trust, the Boettcher Foundation, the Colorado Medical Society and COPIC.

In addition, the group offers online recruitment to match practitioners with counties that need them.

The Colorado Health Foundation spends $2 million annually for its physician loan repayment program, a five-year, $6 million program to bolster Colorado’s doctor work force.

And the Colorado Trust offers funding not only for training health care professionals, but also to help move current doctors into rural areas.

“It’s a mixed strategy,” said Christie McElhenney, spokeswoman for the group. “Providing funding for education is a long-term proposition. So we also work on supplemental means to get health care to people. We provide support for mobile health vans and school-based health centers.”

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.