Health Committee Responds to Concerns Raised by Local Residents

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 22, 2005


The Health Committee of Governor Riley’s Black Belt Action Commission (BBAC) held a town hall meeting in Marion on May 31 where over 700 people attended to participate in an open discussion of Black Belt healthcare issues with a panel of state and local leaders including Governor Bob Riley, Congressman Artur Davis, Chairman of the Health Committee of the BBAC, Dr. Donald Williamson, State Public Health Officer, and Carol Herrmann, Commissioner of the Alabama Medicaid Agency.

Time allowed eight citizens of the Black Belt to ask their questions directly to the panel.

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Those in attendance who were unable to ask their question were able to write their question and submit it for review by the Health Committee.

The Health Committee has reviewed all of the questions submitted during the town hall meeting and has written a formal response to ten of the main questions received during the meeting.

By visiting the Commission website at, citizens can find the answers to these key questions and can review a summary of the questions asked directly to the panelists along with a summary of the panelists’ answers.

“The Black Belt Action Commission is committed to being a grassroots led organization, which is responsive to every citizen of the Black Belt,” said Congressman Artur Davis. “When over 700 Black Belt citizens brave the weather and travel to ask a question of myself or this committee, it illustrates their belief that this committee is committed to progress and action. Though this commission won’t be able to deliver a remedy for every problem in the Black Belt, at a minimum it owes each person who believes and participates in this process the knowledge that we have taken their concerns to heart and are working to make a difference.”

During the town hall meeting, Black Belt citizens raised important issues such as the lack of access to healthcare, prescription drug issues, and the need to increase financial incentives to help recruit physicians to the Black Belt and other rural areas.

One of the key issues discussed during the town hall meeting was the need to change a 30 year old Department of Public Health administrative rule requiring all dialysis centers to be within 10 miles of a hospital.

Many of Alabama’s Black Belt counties do not have a hospital and this rule placed a terrible burden on rural dialysis patients that were forced to travel long distances to seek dialysis treatment.

The Black Belt counties of Choctaw, Hale, Lowndes, Perry, Pickens, and Sumter do not have a dialysis clinic.

The Black Belt has a high rate of risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, has an unusually high percentage of people dependent on dialysis.

Dialysis is a necessary, life saving, treatment for those in End Stage Renal Failure, often as a result of diabetes and hypertension.

On August 17, 2005, the State Board of Public Health voted to remove the ten mile rule and Governor Riley and Dr. Williamson announced this major accomplishment at a press conference on the same day.

Now, rural areas can conduct feasibility studies to determine if a dialysis center is needed in their region.

New dialysis centers in rural areas will increase citizen access to treatment and will reduce the strain that has been placed on ambulance services that are making long trips to take patients to dialysis treatment.

This is just one example of the success that has come from the innovative approach that the Health Committee is taking.

The Governor’s Black Belt Action Commission was created by Executive Order on August 11, 2004, and was charged with proposing and working toward solutions that will improve the quality of life in Alabama’s Black Belt. With over 190 members, the Health Committee is the largest of the 13 committees forming the Commission.

For more information on the Governor’s Black Belt Action Commission, log on to

Those wishing to volunteer their time and services may do so at the above web site or by calling 334-353-1540 in Montgomery, or toll free 1-866-468-2323 outside the area.