Eighty-six emergency room beds for nearly 500,000 residents – or approximately one emergency doctor for every 5,800 people.
According to Dr. Raul Ruiz, the numbers tell the story of a major health care problem in the Coachella Valley – access to physicians.
Speaking at a Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday, Ruiz cited the east valley specifically as being grossly underserved, where JFK Hospital and it’s 14 emergency room beds serve an area with over 100,000 people.
“When you look at the valley as a whole, between JFK, Desert Regional and Eisenhower, there’s less than 100 beds for a half million people, not counting the ‘snowbirds’ that visit every winter,” he said.
Ruiz is part of a group seeking to bring medical training closer to home with a new School of Medicine at UC Riverside. Only 10 schools in the state are accredited to teach medicine – none in Riverside County. The closest medical school to the Coachella Valley is in Loma Linda.
Financing the project is always at the forefront of bringing the school to fruition. California’s ongoing budget crisis, which resulted in funding cuts last year, has been a stumbling block to the university receiving the necessary accreditation.
The state committed $10 million dollars last year to establish a School of Medicine at UC Riverside, but accreditation is being withheld until more money is earmarked for the program.
“Right now we have enough money to continue for four years, but they (Liaison Committee on Medical Education) want to insure we have it in eight years, 12 years, and 15 years,” Ruiz said.
A full time emergency room doctor at Eisenhower Medical Center, Ruiz is spearheading a campaign to encourage local high school students to enter the medical field, and then to serve the Coachella Valley.
Ruiz, who also serves as UCR School of Medicine’s Senior Associate Dean for Community Engagement & Partnerships, is passionate about bringing a medical school closer to the Coachella Valley, noting that with a UCR medical school, it will enable local students to use the UCR satellite facility in Palm Desert for some of their classes and training.
As part of his talk, a Coachella native with three Masters Degrees from Harvard, Ruiz urges people to push state legislators to keep the funding for a UCR medical school in the state budget.
“That’s the one thing we’re doing right now,” Ruiz said. “It’s a full-court press in trying to get our legislatures to keep the line-item for the UCR School of Medicine budget... The LCME organization said the only reason they are holding accreditation is they don’t know of the state is going to be able to fund our school in the long term.”
In a statement last week, Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) echoed the call for continued funding.
“I will continue to push and advocate ongoing state funding, in this and future budget years, for Riverside to have its own medical school for the health and safety of the residents of Riverside County.”
Nestande also noted that the state budget crisis led to cutting funding for the UCR Medical School, putting accreditation in jeopardy.
Ruiz says that if the school is funded and accredited, the Coachella Valley will see its health care crunch ease, as more local physicians are trained.
“As they said in a movie,” Ruiz smiled, “Build it, and they will come.”