Discussion is about to begin in earnest about the local shortage of primary care practitioners.

It's unclear how short Green Valley-Sahuarita is on PCPs, but it's realistic to expect its scarcity is pacing — if not exceeding — national shortages because it's a rural area, said Tom Purdon, a retired ob/gyn, University of Arizona educator and Green Valley resident who is helping spearhead local efforts.

A November 2013 study by U.S. Health and Human Services projected a severe shortage of up to 20,000 primary care doctors nationally by 2020, Purdon noted.

In his field, a reasonable physician-to-patient ratio is about one ob/gyn to 10,000 to 12,000 women, he said. To his knowledge, there are no full-time ob/gyn's based in Green Valley-Sahuarita, although at least two visit twice monthly.

“Before, pregnant women had to traipse up to Tucson,” he said.

In the practice of general medicine, the area should have more PCPs based here now, given that Green Valley Hospital is up and running. While sufficient specialty physicians are also a concern, the hospital is drawing more of them to offices next to the facility.

The PCP shortage is more urgent, Purdon said.

Reasons driving it are many, but roughly 80 percent is due to aging and population growth foreseen through the next several years and beyond. Locally, between 33 and 38 percent of UA's residents in family internal medicine remain in Arizona, a percentage Purdon would like to see rise.

“Arizona's always been a little behind but not destitute,” he said.

Those are among facets of the dilemma local officials plan to study.

For its monthly meeting Tuesday, Green Valley Council's Health & Human Services Committee has bumped its featured-speaker portion to commence talk about pressing needs and issues relating to the lack of PCPs here and growing medical-care needs. It plans to explore ways groups can collaborate to attract more physicians.

They include United Community Health Center, Northwest Urgent Care, Banner University Medical Center, Green Valley Fire District and Green Valley Hospital. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at 555 N. La Cañada Drive, in the GVC office.

Purdon hopes initial discussion leads to formation of a task force that would drive studies, host a public forum on the subject and possible solutions, and take on the challenge of recruiting PCPs to the area.

Study would include current practices, root causes of the problem, what Green Valley-Sahuarita has to offer PCP prospects, and how local leaders and organizations can help each other without competing to fill their own practitioner needs, Purdon said.

“Fran (King, committee chair) and I are committed to undertake this for the rest of the year.”

On a related front, the committee also plans to improve the medical directory listing on the GVC website and publish a brochure to help familiarize the public with services.

“It behooves all of us working together to improve recruiting, if we can get the players at the table,” Purdon said. “We can't just manufacture more physicians overnight.”

Kitty Bottemiller | 547-9732

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