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Great Health Divide: The challenges of preventative care in rural Ozark communities

Published: Apr. 26, 2021 at 9:03 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) -We continue our series Bridging the Great Health Divide.

We told you previously about the nationwide shortage of doctors.

Many consider the problem a crisis in our rural areas. Data shows only one percent of medical doctors practice in these remote parts. Thus getting care for those who live in the country is a challenge.

“We are the closest facility. In this area we have lost three hospitals in the last five years,” said Karen White, CEO of Missouri Highlands.

Missouri Highlands has about a dozen clinics in southeast Missouri. White will tell you they’re doing their best to meet the need. But the stats are tough to hear.

“Our health outcomes are really bad. We have a lot of chronic diseases,” she said.

According to the latest assessment report, rates of heart disease, stroke, COPD, arthritis and diabetes are higher in this region compared to the state.

“We lose people in our community because things aren’t caught,” White said.

37% of women fifty and older here do not get regular mammograms. Workers try to get the MU mammography van every two years. Missouri Highlands recently opened a women’s clinic in Poplar Bluff.

“”People may or may not do adequate self care, so by the time they come in, they’re already stage two, stage three or stage four,” White said.

Patients can get a colon cancer test.

“They take the little kit home and they bring it back to us that you do every year once a year. It’s pretty accurate,” said Susan Norris. Norris is a Family Nurse Practitioner for Missouri Highlands.

Norris treats Hepatitis C, which can cost about $100,000. However, there’s a slide fee for those who qualify.

“I can see them for a third of that cost. If they’re in the poorest category, the slide fee is $20 and the labs are $15. So they’re entire treatment costs $200 or less. I’ve cured 150 people,” Norris said.

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