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Special Report: Keeping up with healthcare needs in Santa Maria

Santa Maria’s population is growing even faster than much of the state. Recent numbers show just over 8 percent growth in Santa Maria from 2010 to 2016 with statewide the growth at about 5 and half percent.

At some point, all of those new people will need a doctor so some health care providers are diversifying their practices to adapt to the growing needs of a growing population.

Places like Central Coast Urgent Care have added industrial medicine treatment for those who come in due to an on-the-job accident.

Doctors and nurses are now cross trained so they can treat people on both sides of the practice.”In that kind of movement you have to be variable in how you do business and how you split up that business,” explains Physician’s Assistant, Dana Shaheen.

On the average day, Shaheen says this urgent care sees between 75 and 100 patients. People like Sarah Webb who now goes to urgent care, even when she only needs a checkup.

“It’s more convenient – they’re always there. With your regular doctor, they’re usually booked – they can’t take you [but] you come here, you’re seen and they’re very thorough,” Webb says.

Webb is one of many who go to urgent care or the emergency room because they don’t have easy access to primary care or specialty doctors.

Because of such strong population growth, the ER at Marian Regional Medical Center is expanding sooner than planned to keep up.

“When we built this new facility, we were seeing about 180 patients a day, the facility has grown since and now we’re seeing 220 – some days up to 300 patients a day,” explains Dr. Chuck Merrill, Chief Medical Officer and Emergency Room Physician at Marian.

And it’s not just in Santa Maria that they’re seeing these kinds of numbers, physicians offices across the country are swamped due to a nationwide shortage.

“For a family physician, you need to be really well versed in all kinds of things so a much broader spectrum across pediatrics to old age so there’s a challenge in that and a certain kind of person that wants to be practicing in that model,” says Dr. David Oates, Director of Medical Education for Dignity Health.

To deal with the shortage, Dignity Health now has a residency program at Marian, the first of its kind in Santa Maria.

“We started back maybe five, six, seven years ago in analyzing whether we could actually support the development of a strong family practice residency program and as we went through and did the analysis we concluded that we could and so this year will be the first graduating class,” explains Chuck Cova, Senior VP of Operations for Dignity Health.

One of those first graduates will be Doctor Jennifer Roberts-Kelly; she plans to stay here on the Central Coast and go into practice right after graduating in June.

“We’re the first class starting so it was sort of something that we could shape ourselves and build up from the ground up which has been really great and sort of watching the community, faculty change and grow has been a really great experience,” says Roberts-Kelly.

While trying to cope with a huge growth in patients, some in the health care community have also found opportunities.

Patient Sarah Webb is glad she went to urgent care and now trusts her doctor at that facility with her health. “She’s the one that treated it and she’s the one that helped me and she’s maintained my asthma so I love it.”

If you’re not sure where to go for your healthcare you can click here for a release from Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) on going to the urgent care vs ER or here for Dignity Health’s find a doctor tool.

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