Senator Melissa Hurtado Announces $110 million in Tobacco Fee Dollars Improving Health Care Access in Central Valley

November 22, 2019

Fresno, CA – Health care leaders, state legislators and medical professionals from across the region gathered in Fresno on Friday to highlight two new programs that have already directed more than $110 million in state tobacco fee revenues across the state which specifically help improve access to health care in the Central Valley. With 30 percent of the statewide award going to the Central Valley, UCSF – Fresno will be receiving $2.8 million for 15 residency slots. Meanwhile, the City of Fresno is expected to receive a total of $4.4 million for 22 positions. Moreover, the Central Valley is expected to receive a total of $12 million for 61 residency slots.

“Today, communities throughout the Central Valley continue to face limited access to affordable and timely healthcare services compared to other California regions,” stated Senator Melissa Hurtado. “These programs are a great start to ensuring that we continue to bring in more resources for our most vulnerable communities,” continued Sen. Hurtado.

Called CalHealthCares and CalMedForce, the programs were created by the Legislature to draw more doctors and dentists to areas of the state where the need is greatest. The funding has directly paid for dozens of residency slots to train new physicians and allocated more than $67 million to pay off student debt for doctors and dentists who agree to see more Medi-Cal patients.

Currently, the San Joaquin Valley averages 30-39 primary care physicians per 100,000 population; half of what is recommended by the Council on Graduate Medical Education.  A 2017 study by the California Future Health Workforce Commission estimates that there will be a statewide shortage of 4,100 physicians by 2025, with some of the most significant shortages in the Central Valley.

“We know that physicians are more likely to practice where they complete their residency,” said Michael W. Peterson, M.D., chief of medicine at UCSF Fresno. “We are not just training physicians.  We are training doctors to stay and serve this community.”

The more than $110 million investment by the two programs is breaking down barriers to care for residents of the Central Valley. By helping relieve doctors of their student loan burdens and by increasing residency slots at campuses in areas with the largest shortages of services, we can provide greater access to care for those most in need.

“Because of my own experiences growing up, I always wanted to work with communities that have the greatest need, but when it came time to sort out my plans after graduating from medical school, I couldn’t make the numbers work,” said Dr. David Benavidez, a psychiatrist who was able to move back to California to practice and now treats an 84% Medi-Cal caseload as a CalHealthCares awardee. “Without the program, I couldn’t have considered moving back home. The award is life changing.”

“Allowing more providers to work in these underserved areas makes a big difference in our state,” said Dr. Michelle Galeon, a dentist, who received a $300,000 CalHealthCares award to provide care at Valley Health Team in Fresno. “When I go to work every day I feel value in what I do and I feel like I’m making an impact in our community.” 

CalMedForce is scheduled to announce the next round of residency funding later this year, and in January, the application window will open for physicians interested in a CalHealthCares awards. Physicians and dentists are eligible under CalHealthCares to receive up to $300,000 in loan repayment in exchange for a five-year commitment to serve more Medi-Cal patients.

You can find out more about CalHealthCares and CalMedForce at

About Senator Melissa Hurtado

Senator Melissa Hurtado is an advocate for expanding access to health care and clean water, growing educational opportunities and creating more quality jobs. She represents the 14th Senate District in California, which includes cities in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties. Senator Hurtado was born in Fresno, California and was raised in the City of Sanger, where she still resides with her family.