A report by the Alabama Rural Health Association shows that 16 counties have no kidney dialysis services despite having more than 500 active kidney patients residing in those areas. Our neighboring Coosa County currently has no primary care doctors or dentists. Lowndes and Greene counties have no dentists whatsoever.
The No. 1 killer of adults in this country is heart disease. Yet, rural Alabamans die at a 37 percent higher rate than heart patients in urban areas of Alabama. Perhaps the most disturbing statistic is that eight rural counties — Lamar, Perry, Chilton, Lowndes, Coosa, Cleburne, Marion and Henry — have no hospitals at all.
If you are planning a new family, you should know that 37 of the 67 counties have no obstetrical care. For residents who currently require a long drive to a delivery hospital in another county, this also could be a dilemma. Traffic deaths are 56 percent higher in rural areas than urban communities and more than double the national rate.
What is the solution? Without federally funded incentives, there is virtually nothing to attract medical professionals to rural poor areas. The dollars are just not there from the private sector. One possibility is a recruiting program tied to federal educational loan repayment, whereby graduating doctors would have their massive student-loan debt forgiven by agreeing to work either full or part-time in rural areas. Another possibility is a rural health program funded and managed by large metro medical centers that dispatch staff physicians into needed areas.
Perhaps we should seek to not get our “cart before our horse” by making sure that medical services are, in fact, accessible to all Alabamians before implementing Obamacare. Remember, millions of residents in rural areas will be fined after Oct. 1 if they do not buy health insurance, even with services not accessible to them. There is something wrong with the picture.
James W. Anderson