Sutter Health: Working to Help Californians Access Health Care

This article is part of a series of profiles of CalChamber member companies that are contributing to the state’s economic strength and ability to stay competitive in a global economy. Visit California Works to learn more about this series and read past and future profiles.

Dwindling access to health care is a nationwide issue with a big impact on California, and it is proving to be one of the toughest and most significant health policy issues we face. California has made great strides toward helping get most people access to health insurance; however, getting a timely appointment or receiving the right care at the right place and time remains a challenge for many.

As one of California’s largest health systems serving more than 3.3 million patients, Sutter Health is committed to helping close the health care access gaps. When patients cannot access timely primary care services or can access a hospital only for simple or routine procedures, it can have a negative impact on individual health outcomes and contribute to the escalating costs of care.

That is why Sutter Health is ramping up investments in solutions: addressing the critical health care clinician shortage, increasing the number of ambulatory care centers and bolstering Federally Qualified Care Centers.

Workforce Pipeline

Increasing the clinical workforce pipeline

One of the significant factors contributing to the access problem is a growing shortage of clinicians, nurses and other health care workers. As a result, patients experience delays in scheduling appointments or getting timely access to primary care, key specialty care and mental health care providers.

A study conducted by KFF estimates that 8 million people in California live in an area that has a shortage of primary care providers. A mid-range forecast by Let’s Get Healthy California indicates the state would need about 4,700 additional primary care clinicians in 2025 and about 4,100 additional primary care clinicians in 2030 to meet demand.

It is clear California needs a more robust pipeline of clinical talent to bridge the widening gap. California must create more residency programs to keep medical students in the state and increase the likelihood they’ll stay and build their practice here.

Sutter is leaning in to help solve this challenge. While it already operates 19 accredited graduate medical education (GME) programs across its system, training 200 resident physicians per year, Sutter plans on quadrupling its GME capacity with a goal of training 900 residents a year by the end of the decade and grow from six GME locations to 16.

Sutter also understands that California’s patients and clinical needs vary widely — from small, rural communities to larger urban regions. That’s why Sutter Health offers different GME programs to meet local needs; for example, Sutter Health has implemented a rural residency family medicine training track with the goal to attract, train and retain physicians in the rural area of Jackson in Amador County and is pursuing a similar program in Crescent City in Del Norte County.

Meeting Patients

Meeting patients where they live with more care centers, better care capacity

The landscape of health care is shifting to be more responsive and convenient for patients. Sutter Health’s aim is to meet patients where they are by expanding its presence in communities across California and accelerating digital health innovation. It plans on adding 25 new ambulatory care centers across its footprint in the next 4 years and it has embarked on an aggressive physician recruiting effort to hire 650 new clinicians by the end of this year alone with comparable goals in the coming years.

Developing more care centers that include a wide variety of health care services all in one location helps patients access the most appropriate level of care closer to home with less disruption in their daily schedules. And digital health solutions can maximize care delivery and improve management of chronic conditions and diseases.

Investing in Communities

Investing in communities to expand care and reach those in need

Sutter Health invests significantly in the health of California’s diverse communities, including those where care is often difficult to access. As a not-for-profit health system, its goals include expanding access to health care beyond the walls of its hospitals and care centers.

In 2022, Sutter invested $899 million in community benefit programs, which includes supporting community health partners and programs, providing free medical care to patients that cannot afford it and absorbing the unreimbursed costs of providing care to patients enrolled in Medi-Cal.

Sutter Health works with and supports community organizations to help identify, prioritize and address key community health needs, with a specific goal of improving community wellness and serving populations experiencing health disparities. Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) play a unique and critical role in providing patients access to comprehensive clinical services in medically underserved regions.

Sutter’s support for numerous FQHCs throughout its Northern California footprint helped 300,000 patients access primary and specialty care services and 140,000 patients access mental health and addiction care services in 2022.

Sutter Health is proud to continue to find ways to make sure every Californian can access the highest quality care in the most convenient way possible. However, the problem cannot be solved alone and there is much more work to be done. Sutter Health looks forward to working alongside others to find new and better ways for patients and communities to improve their overall health and wellness.