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Pioneer Valley Urology leaving Greenfield; Part of a national urology shortage

GREENFIELD — Franklin County residents will be without a local urologist after next week, when private Springfield-based Pioneer Valley Urology leaves town.

The organization came to Greenfield last summer and served patients once a week at its office at 48 Sanderson St., which is a medical building owned by Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

“We tried to provide services to Greenfield but we were stretched too thin,” said Leonard Shaker, a urologist with the organization. “Our decision was based on our practice needs.”

The organization will continue serving patients at its other offices in Springfield, Ware and Westfield. Employees wouldn’t say how many Franklin County residents were served.

There is a shortage of urologists across the country and rural areas have been hit the hardest, according to physicians in the American Urological Association. They say the number of government-funded medical residency positions in urology is too low and that new doctors often gravitate toward large urology practices in urban settings.

Still, the sudden absence of a local urologist adds fuel to the fire in an ongoing public discussion about access to medical services in Franklin County.

Baystate Franklin hasn’t had its own urologist since May 2012, when Alejandro Miranda-Sousa moved to Florida. The hospital had hoped that Pioneer Valley Urology services could be expanded, said hospital spokeswoman Amy Swisher. Since hearing that the organization planned to leave, she said the hospital has tried to recruit one or two urologists but has had difficulty due to the national shortage.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association, whose nurses are engaged in a nearly two-year contract dispute with Baystate Franklin, continues to argue that the hospital is intentionally shifting its medical services to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. The union has said that the absence of a urologist is just one example of how the hospital has failed to recruit and retain doctors.

But hospital officials contend that they are trying their best to bring in new physicians. Baystate Franklin President Chuck Gijanto said that the hospital is actively looking for one or more urologists, an additional gastroenterologist and an additional orthopedic surgeon.

The hospital is planning a major operating room renovation, which should help attract doctors to the area, he said.

And the Town Council’s recent approval of a zoning change will allow the hospital to purchase and build on the Holy Trinity School property on North Street, which Gijanto said can be used to add office space for these physicians.

National urologist shortage

Franklin County is not alone in its struggle to attract urologists.

“We’re probably at a 30-year low for the number of urologists (in the country),” said Chris Gonzalez, a physician and professor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University in Illinois.

It’s only going to get worse, he said, when 20 percent of the current workforce retires within five years. Meanwhile, the country’s senior citizens, a key demographic of the urology field, continues to increase in number.

Urologists say the biggest problem is that the government has frozen the number of funded medical residency positions, which means that research institutions have to pay for some of the students themselves. It’s a competitive field and often students can’t find placements, said Raj Pruthi, a professor and urologic oncology director for the University of North Carolina.

As a result, the supply does not meet the demand. By the year 2020, there will be a patient need for 16,000 urologists with less than 8,000 physicians actually practicing, said Pruthi.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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