A health professional shortage area designation is assigned by the federal government to allocate resources to meet local needs for certain health care providers and can be used by health care facilities to establish a need for additional health care professionals. This need is evaluated based on a complex set of statistical criteria as well as both population demographics and geographic factors. The process is administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration's (HRSA) Shortage Designation Branch.
Shortage areas can fall under either the Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) or Medically Underserved Areas/Populations (MUA/P) designations.
A Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) is designated as having a critical shortage of either primary care, dental or mental health providers. Each type of HPSA is further classified as being a specific geographic area, a specific population group, or in some cases, a specific facility. There is also an automatic designation for community health centers meeting a set of standard requirements. Once declared, a HPSA designation is valid for a period of three years.
A Medically Underserved Area/Population (MUA/P) designation identifies areas or populations with a shortage of primary care services using a different set of criteria. Medically Underserved Areas/Populations are areas or populations designated by HRSA as having: too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, high poverty and/or high elderly population. Unlike a HPSA this type of designation does not expire. An MUA/MUP may apply to whole counties, a group of counties or civil divisions, or a group of urban census tracts. The Medically Underserved Population (MUP) includes groups of persons who face documented economic, cultural or linguistic barriers to health care.