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Health care concerns voiced to Action Commission

Having a Black Belt Action Commission sounds nice, but what actions should it take, precisely, in the field of health care?

That was the question leaders in Perry County and Black Belt health care sought to answer at a meeting held at Judson College Tuesday afternoon. The meeting brought together the “Providing Access” subcommittee of the Black Belt Action Commission’s committee on health with Marion residents who were able to inform the subcommittee exactly what problems must be addressed for Black Belt health care to move forward.

Many problems were brought before the committee and discussed. Among those speaking out was Marion physician Shane Lee, who noted that the Black Belt’s efforts to recruit new doctors was made much more difficult by the recent spike in lawsuits.

“One of the most pressing issues is litigation,” he said. “We’ve noticed a significant trend the last three years in the number of lawsuits…the nursing home’s malpractice insurance has gone up 200 percent in two years. Doctors know the Black Belt is a litigious area and that they may have problems with reimbursement, and it makes it hard for them to come here.”

The lack of access to transportation was another major problem according to those in attendance. Lee spoke of residents paying acquaintances $15 a day to take them to the doctor; others pointed out that Perry County has only “one-and-a-half” ambulances, meaning one in full use and one on part-time duty.

Perry County Health Care Coordinator Francis Ford noted that with no dialysis center in Perry, the ambulances spend much of their time toting patients back and forth from Selma for dialysis, and often aren’t available for emergencies.

“We desperately need a dialysis center here in Marion,” she said, “but state regulations say you have to build one within 10 miles of a hospital, and there’s no hospital in Perry County.”

Ford suggested that a “critical care” limited-use hospital be built to help solve both the emergency care and dialysis regulation problem, but Judson president Dr. David Potts asked that Governor Riley first loosen the 10-mile prohibition. Potts also suggested that Riley work to repair a federal measurement standard that declared Perry County was not a “shortage area” for physicians.

“How can Perry County not be a shortage area?” he asked. “They’re saying that only because of part-time, old physicians. We had a young doctor of internal medicine who wanted to come here, but because we’re not a ‘shortage area’ he couldn’t get his medical loans waived the way he can somewhere else. If Governor Riley could use his influence to change these regulations, it would make a big difference.”

Representing Riley at the meeting was Chad Nichols, Special Projects Coordinator on the Governor’s staff. He assured committee members and the local guests that Governor Riley was ready to listen to the people on the ground in the Black Belt, and that he was ready to put in the effort to make a difference.

Other problems discussed at the meeting were the lack of E-911 services, the lack of health insurance, the cost of prescription medication, and the need for stronger regulations for Nurse Practitioners.

The “Providing Access” committee is co-chaired by Demopolis’s Mike Marshall, administrator of Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital, and John Wheat, professor of Community and Rural Medicine at the University of Alabama.