MONTEREY — Ann Foster’s allergies have taken her over many a mountain in search of a cure.
Foster lives in rural Highland County, where there is no hospital, no practicing physician, not even a pharmacy. To see a pulmonary specialist, Foster recently had to drive to Harrisonburg, a three-hour round trip on winding country roads.
“It shoots a day by the time you travel over the mountains,” Foster said.
Highland County is part of the most medically underserved region in Virginia — and the worst-case example of what could be a looming statewide crunch:
With newfound health insurance required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more patients by the thousands will soon be seeking treatment from an already strained system.
Demand for primary care physicians is expected to increase at a time when there’s already a shortage of doctors in that field, both nationally and in Virginia.
Longer waits to see a doctor — assuming one can be found — could be in store.
“Just the magnitude of the situation is getting people’s attention,” said Mike Jurgensen, senior vice president of the Medical Society of Virginia. “There hasn’t been this significant of an increase of the insured since probably [the implementation of] Medicare in the 1960s.”
Currently in Virginia, there’s a projected shortage of about 600 patient care physicians — a gap that is expected to grow to more than 2,500 full-time equivalent positions by 2030, according a 2010 forecast by the Lewin Group for the Virginia Department of Health Professions.