Deal, in his State of the State Address to a joint session of the General Assembly, asked legislators for funding to create the residency slots. That means $1.2 million in the first year, growing over four years to a total of $22 million.
That would cover half the amount needed to hire administrators at hospitals across the state for three years to design local residency programs and win approval from accrediting agencies. The hospitals would pay the other half.
Georgia needs 1,500 additional residency positions to reach the national average of physicians per citizen, but adding 400 slots would reach the Southeastern average.
Legislators are enthusiastic about Deal’s request.
“I compare this to the ports,” said Rep. Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican and a physician. “It produces jobs; it’s good for the economy, and it’s good for the long-term health of Georgia.”
Because doctors are more likely to set up practice where they spend their residency, the added slots should keep more of Georgia’s medical-school graduates in the state. That means they’ll be hiring staff and generating income.
“It’s why I have been 100 percent supportive of medical school expansion,” said Rep. Doug McKillip, R-Athens.
The Athens, Savannah, Rome and Augusta areas all have hospitals interested in hiring residents if the finances work out.
The next hurdle is winning legislative approval of Deal’s request.
“I don’t think it will be hung up,” said Sen. Buddy Carter, the chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and a Pooler Republican. “I think it needs to be a priority.”
The regents’ new committee will decide how to distribute the money. It is designed to get the residency programs started with the goal of having federal Medicare funds take over to cover the residents’ pay.
The large upfront expense has stopped most hospitals from starting programs even as recent expansions at the state’s medical schools has increased the need for them by 30 percent.
“It starts the jump-starts for the hospitals,” said Dr. Shelley Nuss, the associate dean for the medical partnership of Georgia Health Sciences University and the University of Georgia. “They have some dollars so they can defray those startup costs.”