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Health fairs planned for Black Belt counties

Health care has long been an issue in the Black Belt, and is something Gov. Bob Riley had hoped to tackle with the Black Belt Action Commission. Now, thanks to that commission and Congressman Artur Davis, health care may soon improve in more Black Belt areas.

The Community Care Network, which sponsors the Care-A-Van mobile medical unit in Lowndes County, is planning health fairs in all 12 Black Belt counties in an effort to expand its health care efforts to more rural areas.

“For the past five years we have been holding health fairs in Montgomery County, this year we decided to go into all 12 Black Belt counties,” Dr. Leon Davis, founder and president of the Community Care Network, said. “These 12 health fairs are one step of a long-range plan that CCN is putting into place to help eliminate health disparities.”

The Community Care Network was established in 2000 to help the medically underserved and uninsured by bringing together volunteer physicians, nurses, dentists, nutritionists, therapists and other medical professionals to offer free medical evaluation and treatment at health fairs. The program began as a local health ministry and quickly grew into a full-fledged, county-wide community outreach program and now regularly sees patients in Lowndes County.

The CCN uses a mobile medical unit known as the Care-A-Van. The Care-A-Van is a fully equipped medical vehicle, complete with two exam rooms and a medical lab, which enables CCN to give complete medical screenings to those in rural areas where access to medical services is severely limited.

Chad Nichols, special projects coordinator for the Black Belt Action Commission, explained that the upcoming health fairs are a sort of introductory effort to help expand the CCN’s services to more counties.

“The health fairs are (CCNs) way to expand into those rural areas,” he said. He said Davis is currently the only doctor working the Care-A-Van, so times are limited, but he said Davis hopes to attract other doctors throughout the Black Belt to his cause, allowing more clinics more often.

“They need doctors to staff the program,” Nichols said. “If any doctors had one day a month or anything to contribute, they could offer more visits.”

More doctors would also contribute to the long-range plan, which is to establish a Care-A-Van unit in each county, or at least more counties.

“They’re heavily involved in two counties right now – Montgomery County and Lowndes County – they want to become heavily involved in the rest of the Black Belt counties,” Nichols said.

“We hope to utilize these health fairs as a springboard to expand the mobile medicine clinics currently done in Lowndes County into all of the Black Belt Counties,” Davis said.

Rep. Artur Davis, who was actively involved in bringing the health fairs to other Black Belt counties, said the health fairs were “a step in the right direction towards remedying healthcare disparities within the Black Belt.”

“We must continue to build on this achievement to further develop existing healthcare services and generate new structures and partnerships in order to provide proper, quality healthcare for all Alabamians,” he said.

The first health fair will be in Wilcox County April 2, followed by fairs April 9 in Perry County, April 30 in Lowndes County, May 14 in Dallas County, May 21 in Pickens County, June 11 in Bullock County and June 18 in Sumter County. Health fairs in the remaining counties are still in the planning stages.