Fifty-five of Alabama’s 67 counties are considered rural. Two million residents, 43.6 percent of the state’s population, live there. In those counties, shortages of primary health care facilities are the norm.
Only three of our rural counties are not classified in some way as primary care shortage areas. It would take 156 primary-care physicians — doctors who offer basic, not specialized, care — strategically placed in these counties, to eliminate the shortages. It would take 434 to provide optimal care for residents there.
In almost every category — from obstetrics to dental care — Alabama’s rural counties fall short, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Yet, earlier this week, the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health joined with state and local and national rural health-care providers to celebrate National Rural Health Day. The Alabama Department of Public Health had the state join right in. The irony is unmistakable.
National Rural Health Day came into being two years ago to increase awareness of the health-care issues that face rural Americans. In Alabama, those health care issues are painfully obvious.
The day is also designed to highlight what states are doing to address those issues. In Alabama, the lack of effort is also obvious.
Like every other state agency that works with the poor, the Alabama Department of Public Health is under-funded. Although the department does a lot with a little, it can only do so much.
Meanwhile, our legislative leaders, many of them from rural counties, are saying no to Obamacare and oppose any expansion of Medicaid. To add to the irony, our physician-governor is out front leading them.
No, there is not much to celebrate.