Legislation aimed at dealing with a shortage of primary care physicians in Oklahoma was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mary Fallin.
She signed House Bill 3058, which contains the Oklahoma Hospital Residency Training Program Act, and Senate Bill 1280, which provides $3.08 million to create residency programs at hospitals in rural, underserved areas.
“It will help us retain physicians in those most-needed areas of the state,” Fallin said. “Currently, there are 64 of Oklahoma's 77 counties that are experiencing health care professional shortages.”
HB 3058 allows the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa and the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in Oklahoma City to establish and run new residency programs in medically underserved areas.
OSU President Burns Hargis thanked legislators and the governor for passing the legislation.
“This is a critical, acute need for the state of Oklahoma,” he said. “We simply must get more primary care physicians into the rural areas and other underserved areas in our cities. Both OU and OSU are focused on these areas.
“We're going to see a lot more boots on the ground and that's what we need because the primary care doctor is basically the front door to the medical system,” Hargis said. “This is a tremendous advance. Only the government of the state of Oklahoma could have started it. You can't get the money for residency programs from the federal government until you've established them for a period of years.”
The governor, flanked by University of Oklahoma President David Boren, Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson and Hargis, also signed SB 1969, which transfers about $140 million remaining in a special research fund to the state higher education budget to match a backlog of privately funded endowed chairs. Many chairs support similar high-tech research projects.
The endowed chair program was started about 20 years ago; dollars provided by private donors are matched 100 percent by the state. The state is behind about $280 million in matching those pledges.
“It helps attract top-quality faculty for our universities and our colleges in very important fields ... like science and math and engineering,” Fallin said. “The transfer also reflects our state's commitment to higher education and the long-term success of the endowed chairs program which will help strengthen our universities.”
Most of the endowed chairs are earmarked at OU and OSU, but Johnson said it has a statewide impact.
“Twenty-two of our 25 colleges and universities have money in this endowed chair backlog,” he said. “So indeed this is a statewide program where every institution and the students from those institutions will receive the benefits.”