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Living Rural; Needing Health Care: Health Professional Shortage Areas

Health Care Shortage Areas

Alabama, by geographic definition, is basically a rural state - with more than 80% of the state or 54 counties out of a total of 67 - classified as rural. According to the latest U.S. Census report in 2010, almost 2 million Alabama residents, or 41%, reside in those 54 counties in areas where city dwellers might consider “the country.”

In fact, there is no public-access hospital in seven of those 54 counties. This means residents in those communities must drive at least 30 minutes to an hour or more, often over highways filled with pot holes and eroding asphalt, to find an emergency room or to deliver a baby. It is the normal way of life for the almost 100,000 residents in those seven counties of Alabama.

Health-care analysts refer to these locations as Health Professional Shortage areas (HPSA) - communities where there are not enough health care providers to serve the county’s population. The Office of Primary Care and Rural Health with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) cite two types of HPSA: Geographic and Low-income:

Geographic refers to a shortfall of providers relative to the overall population.

Low-income refers to a shortfall of providers who accept Medicaid or a sliding-fee scale relative to the low-income population in a specified area or county.

ADPH recently released the most current HPSA maps for Primary Care, Dental, and Mental Health – as of October, 2017. In the 17 traditional Black Belt counties, primary-care shortages increased in all but one county, Dallas County saw a decrease, and Butler County remained the same:

The Alabama Statewide AHEC Program (ASAP) operates to mitigate the long-term impact in HPSA by working to build the healthcare workforce in rural counties. With five regional centers across the state, regional Area Health Education Center (AHEC) staff are linking rural communities with health professions academic partners to educate high school students on the variety of available health-care careers and the AHECs also offer clinical training opportunities for health professions students in rural and underserved areas of Alabama.

The Southeast Alabama AHEC (SEAAHEC) hosts Discovery MedCamp each summer for up to 25 students from 15 counties in Southeast Alabama in a weeklong, intensive program designed to give students, who are interested in the field of medicine, an up-close, hands-on experience in health career exploration. To maintain the motivation, SEAAHEC can provide on-going educational and clinical training support for interested students who may have a desire return to their communities as much-needed, health-care providers.

In addition, starting in Fall, 2018, SEAAHEC will offer post-secondary students, in health professions, the opportunity to join a new, two-year program, AHEC Scholars. The program offers 40 hours each of classroom and clinical training each year with an emphasis on interprofessional education for up to 25 students. The Scholars will complete the program with fellow students from at least three other health professions disciplines, providing an overall better understanding of patient-centered care - as they enter the workforce.

Both programs require an application. For more information:

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