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Coloradans Over 60 Will Outnumber Those Under 18 in 2 Years, Bill Aims To Increase Number Of Geriatricians

DENVER (CBS4)- Colorado has the second fastest-growing older population in the country and the number of geriatric doctors has not kept up. In two years, Coloradans 60 and over will outnumber those 18 and under and the Alzheimer's Association says even if the number of geriatricians tripled by 2050, it would meet only 10% of the need.

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Dr. Robert Schwartz is chair of the Division of Geriatrics at C-U Anschutz. When he began practicing medicine nearly 50 years ago, the specialty of geriatrics didn't even exist.

"But my favorite patients were always the little, frail, older women that I took care of," said Schwartz.

Schwartz is one of just 89 geriatricians in the entire state for 1.3 million Coloradans 60 and older. Some patients, he says, drive hundreds of miles to see him.

"Geriatrics is one of the 2 or 3 lowest paid professions in medicine," said Schwartz.

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It is also one of the most in-demand professions. Rich Mauro with the Colorado Senior Lobby says Colorado's older population is expected to double in the next 10 to 15 years.

"We've heard complaints from seniors over the years about this kind of issue where there weren't that many doctors who understood them," said Mauro.

Sen. Jessie Danielson hopes to change that. She's introduced a bill that would provide student loan forgiveness for physician assistants and nurse practitioners who specialize in geriatrics and are willing to practice in underserved communities.

"We need to do everything we can to make sure that seniors can live at home independently with dignity. Part of that is making sure they have access to quality health care," said Danielson.

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The bill starts with $400,000 in loan forgiveness the first year and the amount is expected to increase in subsequent years.

Schwartz among those who are testifying in favor of it, "These advanced practice providers are going to be highly sought after nationwide, so how do we bring them into our state rather than exporting them from our state, which is what the situation is now."

The bill passed committee and will be debated on the floor of the state Senate on Tuesday.

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