What's the doctor-patient ratio in South LA?

Jan. 31, 2013, 4:32 p.m.

The waiting room at South Central Family Health Center. Even at its best, South Los Angeles' doctor-ratio population still isn't great: More than 3,600 patients for every doctor. (Mae Ryan/KPCC)

A recent Senate report said that the United States is currently short 16,000 primary care doctors, and South Los Angeles has proven to be an apt illustration of that shortage.

Nina Vaccaro, the executive director of the Southside Coalition of Community Health Clinics, explained:

The federal government will score areas based on the number of health providers in that area, among other criterion. If an area's shortage of providers is big enough, primary care providers who choose to work in that area may be eligible for medical school loan repayment or, better yet, forgiveness.

"It's workforce development," said Vaccaro, also noting the program's value as an incentive. "It's a great way to recruit doctors to want to come to work in a low-income area and community clinics."

But in South L.A., there are a lot of clinics clustered close together, making it seem, on paper, as if there's "too many doctors for the population that lives there." In order to be eligible for federal funding, Vaccaro is in the middle of an effort to help essentially "redistrict" South L.A. so that the relatively few clinics are spread out more evenly among the large, mostly uninsured population. That will hopefully help federal funding for South L.A. community clinics fall into place, and with that funding, they'll theoretically be able to attract more doctors to serve a population in deep need.

The clinic-heavy area in South L.A. isn't simply described. Its borders, roughly:

– Vernon Avenue to the north, in one area extending as far northeast as Mission Road in East L.A.

– Alameda Street to the east.

– Manchester Boulevard to the south, in some areas extending as far south as Imperial Highway.

– La Brea Avenue to the west, in some areas extending as far west as La Cienega Boulevard

That general area, said Vaccaro, has just over 3,600 patients for every doctor. "I would say anything over [a one-to-3,000 ratio] is not good," she said. "Where it's really bad is 10,000 and above. That's when it's really critical."

Which brings us to the surrounding area: According to Vaccaro, the area to the south has a patient-to-doctor ratio of 19,256 to one.

The area to the west has a ratio of 27,868 patients for every doctor.

"This is pretty significant when you're looking at areas with not a lot of doctors and a lot of people living there," said Vaccaro. "And you've also got higher rates of poverty. Thirty-plus percent of the population lives at 100 percent [of the federal poverty level] or below."

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