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Healthy Living

Alabama county sets model for rural health collaboration

STORY BY DALE QUINNEY

Having and keeping adequate health care locally available is a difficult challenge in many of Alabama’s rural areas. Local health care is more than just having practitioners to provide the major health care needs of local residents. Health care, especially a local hospital, is one of the larger employers in most rural areas, attracting other health-related services to the area. This can produce a large economic impact.  Not having adequate health care locally available puts an area at a disadvantage for attracting economic development.

Struggling with a chronic shortage of health care or experiencing a loss of local health care greatly impacts a rural area, including the futures of residents, their children and grandchildren. The residents of Flomaton in Escambia County were confronted with the loss of their hospital in 1993.  Such a great loss created uncertainty about the future of the area.

Faced with this threatening situation, several visionary leaders in Escambia County, a rural county with areas served by Southern Pine Electric Cooperative, decided to get active in improving local health care and its far-reaching impact. This effort led to the creation of the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County in 1995. This coalition is as strong today as ever. Similar coalitions can and should be developed in all of Alabama’s rural counties.

Chad Hartley drives the Wheels of Wellness van in Escambia County. Photo by Leslie Jackson

Local health coalitions bring together members who work with different components of the county to study local health status, concerns, and needs as a group. Issues or concerns that need improvement are identified and the coalition goes to work seeking improvement. Most coalitions include representatives from hospitals, primary care clinics, specialty care clinics, dental clinics, nursing, mental health care, public health, drug abuse treatment, emergency medical services, dialysis services, local government, the clergy, education, law enforcement, nursing homes, the local Department of Human Resources, the local Children’s Policy Council, family resource centers, counseling services, and others. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians health center are also represented in the Coalition.  Representation may vary due to the uniqueness of each county.

The Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County meets monthly to hear presentations and share information on various health-related subjects, discuss health-related concerns and conduct business.  While considerable grant funding has been received and successes are numerous, one success involved providing leadership to secure funding for a new transport system for women and children (Wheels of Wellness) when funding forced Kid One Transport to cease serving the county.

Perhaps the single greatest success is that this coalition makes a loud statement that is heard within and outside of Escambia County that they love their home and want it to be a place where current and future residents can have a bright and healthy future.

For additional information on the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County or assistance in establishing such a coalition, please contact the Alabama Rural Health Association at arha@arhaonline.org or (334) 546-3502.

Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.