BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - New data from the Alabama Office of Primary Care and Rural Health shows nearly the entire state is experiencing a shortage of Primary Care doctors. Locally, only Jefferson, Shelby and Calhoun counties are listed as having an adequate number of doctors for their populations. Even still, portions of Jefferson County are designated as a Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) for low-income residents.
In St. Clair County, a new clinic by Easterseals of the Birmingham Area will open next week for people who do not health insurance. Its proponents are hopeful the clinic can be a model for other rural areas in need of better access to healthcare.
“We are very fortunate that there are a lot of health care professionals out there who are very philanthropic. Our staff here is all volunteer,” said Executive Director David Higgins.
Patients can be seen Monday through Thursday at the clinic for $20. That access could be a potential game changer for the 12 percent, or roughly 10,000 people in St. Clair County who do not have health insurance.
“People are not getting the healthcare they need. They do not have a physician. They’re finding themselves having to go to the emergency room for their care.” said Dr. Cristy Daffron, who helped get the clinic up and running.
Data shared with the clinic organizers showed more than 5,000 non-emergency visits to a nearby ER by uninsured patients last year, draining resources intended for emergency situations.
“By giving people access to primary care, we are keeping people with chronic conditions from becoming permanently disabled,” said Higgins.
Higgins points not just to tangible economic incentives for communities to establish charitable health clinics in underserved areas, but also intangible benefits such as giving residents the ability to live with dignity.
“We want to be able to replicate this and take it to other areas. The more people you have who are healthy and independent, the stronger your community is,” he said.
A core group of about five people began working less than a year ago to see the charitable clinic established in Pell City. With a small space inside a building owned by the city, the clinic had its first home, though renovations were a big task.
“There are charitable clinics in Alabama and they all look a little bit different, but I think this community needed it so badly that we really didn’t have to sell it to anybody. Everybody wanted to help,” said Dr. Daffron.
Everything from the exam tables and EKG machine to the flooring and blinds were donated to the clinic. Nearly 30 donors including local healthcare professionals, community colleges, hardware stores, churches, home decorators, painters, and furniture stores brought supplies and labor to the effort. The many donations kept start-up costs to a minimum.
St. Clair residents without health insurance, between the ages of 19 and 64, can call 205-338-4806 to make an appointment.
Click here for more information on the challenges to Rural Healthcare in our state.