My name is Kathleen Davidson, and I am the board chair of Manchester Community Health Center (MCHC). As I write this, health centers like MCHC face a serious issue: a scarcity of qualified health-care clinicians and staff.

New Hampshire does not have the workforce to meet the current health care needs of our residents and, as a result, patients are delaying care or going without. As the Senate begins its work on the state budget, I urge the inclusion of all of the components of SB 308 in the state budget.

Our state has over 2,000 health-care worker vacancies because historically, the state has not invested in programs that are well-established and proven to work. We should invest in proven health education programs that expose students to health-care professions and help them make connections with practices so that students will want to stay in New Hampshire after licensure.

New Hampshire also needs to invest in advanced training programs for licensed clinicians. For example, Lamprey Health Care, the Southern New Hampshire Area Health Education Center and the University of New Hampshire partnered to create an advanced training program for fully licensed and credentialed nurse practitioners. This program combines an educational program with irreplaceable hands-on experience in a community-based nonprofit health center.

Innovative programs such as this are a win-win and should be invested in and expanded: clinicians gain experience working with patients with complex health needs, health centers benefit from a larger hiring pool and our patients have greater access to qualified clinicians.

Also contributing to the shortage is a lack of investment in the State Loan Repayment Program, (SLRP) which is a hugely successful program statistically. The program assists clinicians in repaying their student loans in exchange for a three-year service commitment, and it is hands-down the most important tool for community health centers like ours to attract providers to our organization.

Eighty-three percent of clinicians who participate in this program remain in the Granite State after their commitment is complete. Manchester Community Health Center currently has three participants in SLRP: one marriage and family therapist, one licensed independent clinical social worker, and one master licensed alcohol and drug counselor, who treat approximately 500 of our patients.

If funding for SLRP is reduced as current legislation proposes, nearly 30 clinicians in the state could lose this funding, including clinicians at MCHC.

The health-care workforce shortage is very expensive for all practices, but particularly nonprofits like ours. Studies show that the accumulative costs for organizations replacing one physician can be as high as $345,000, taking into account salaries and fees paid to recruitment firms, lost productivity for employees involved in candidate selection, on-boarding costs including training and credentialing new physicians, and a decrease in revenue.

New Hampshire is equipped and has the money to improve our health-care system now. We have one of the best economies and lowest unemployment rates in the country. The amount of funding that is needed to make strides in improving our workforce development is a drop in the bucket when you look at our state budget as a whole.

A coalition of over 50 health-care organizations worked with legislators on both sides of the aisle to write SB 308, and if passed, this bill would use state and federal dollars to stimulate our workforce and our economy. Please include the components of SB 308 in the state budget.

This investment in our health-care workforce is an investment in our health, our future and the state’s economy.

Kathleen Davidson is chairman of the board at the Manchester Community Health Center.