Healthcare on Wheels Initiative

Demopolis, Ala. More residents in west Alabama will soon benefit from an initiative called 'Healthcare on Wheels.' The USDA Rural Development has awarded the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority almost $1,000,000 for the project.

"As part of this we are out in the middle of nowhere, down on dirt roads, on one lane roads," says Dr. Marcia Pugh. She is the Division Director for Grants, Research and Outreach of West Alabama with the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority. She says the 'Healthcare On Wheels' initiative is so special because it provides curbside healthcare services to remote areas.

Started two years with a $384,700 grant from the USDA, the initiative has a mobile unit that transports nurses into remote areas within six counties. While there the professionals perform free screenings for things such as: cholesterol, high blood pressure and blood sugar.

"We've had people with a stroke level that we've had to send to the emergency room,"says Dr. Pugh.

The nurses also provide people within the area important preventative and healthcare maintenance information. Officials with Bryan W. Whitfield Hospital in Demopolis says this service, and other healthcare prevention and maintenance efforts that they have provided over the last seven years have significantly decreased the number of patients they treat in the emergency room.

"We've had over a 70% decrease over the last five years, and it has probably kept us from spending an unnecessary $6.2 million," says Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital CEO, Mike Marshall.

The mobile unit goes into rural parts of west Alabama at least two to three days each week. With the additional $900,000 grant money, officials say they will likely be able to almost double that number of days, and also add student nurses, and a nurse practitioner on the rides. Ultimately, the plan is to add a doctor on the rides as well.

"With Rural Development's assistance we hope to fund more of these mobile units so that we can place them strategically in rural America throughout the country," says Patrice Kunesh, who is the Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Healthcare on Wheels initiative that's based in Demopolis serves six counties in west Alabama. They are: Choctaw, Sumter, Marengo, Greene, Hale and Wilcox.

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