The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) is a federal program to increase the supply of health professionals in underserved communities, but its role in enhancing the capacity of community health centers (CHCs) has not been investigated. This study examined the role of NHSC clinicians in improving staffing and patient care capacity in primary, dental, and mental health care in CHCs.
Using 2013–2016 administrative data from CHCs and the NHSC, we used a generalized estimating equation approach to examine whether NHSC clinicians [staff full-time equivalents (FTEs)] complement non-NHSC clinicians in CHCs and whether their productivity (patient visits per staff FTE) was greater than that of non-NHSC clinicians in primary, dental, and mental health care.
Each additional NHSC clinician FTE was associated with a significant gain of 0.72 non-NHSC clinician FTEs in mental health care in CHCs and an increase of 0.04 non-NHSC FTEs in primary care in CHCs with more severe staffing shortages. On average, every additional NHSC clinician was associated with an increase of 2216 primary care visits, 2802 dental care visits, and 1296 mental health care visits per center-year. The adjusted visits per additional staff for NHSC clinicians were significantly greater in dental (difference=992) and mental health (difference=423) care, compared with non-NHSC clinicians.
The NHSC clinicians complement non-NHSC clinicians in primary care and mental health care. They help enhance the provision of patient care in CHCs, particularly in dental and mental health services, the 2 major areas of service gaps.