Buddy Check 3: Health care leaders assuring cancer advancements reach into the Ozarks

Published: May. 3, 2021 at 5:40 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Efforts in the last 20 years to provide better health care to more people have made a huge difference in this country.

From 1999 to 2019, cancer death rates have dropped 27%, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Here in the Ozarks, the regional health care professionals have been working hard to make sure those advances in medicine are reaching into rural communities as well.

Doris Elbers has her own little slice of heaven way out here in the country, a few miles outside of Mt Vernon, in Lawrence County, Mo. She loves to sit at her kitchen table and look out the window as horses and squirrels and birds seem to welcome spring. It’s the kind of peace and quiet that’s more important than ever to Elbers since she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She said she was just laying in bed one night and felt a big lump under her arm, the size of an egg. Suddenly Doris said one of her first concerns was having to travel to Springfield for treatment.

Driving an hour or more to a regional medical center costs money and time off from work, which would devastate Elbers’ budget.

And it’s a challenge in rural areas across the state. About 100 miles northeast of Mount Vernon, Lebanon’s Mercy Hospital is closer to the countryside, but still sees patients who drive up to an hour to get here, even patients from Arkansas.

“What we try to do is bring that care here to the hospital, so people aren’t having to travel as far,” according to the hospital’s administrator Nicki Gamet.

And medical care in smaller cities like Lebanon has exploded, from cutting edge 3-d mammography to its own Curry Cancer Center where rural patients can receive chemotherapy without traveling an extra hour or more.

Nicki Gamet grew up in rural Missouri, she says she understands people who live in the country, what they deal with every day, whether he’s a local farmer or she’s a mom working at a local factory with daycare needs.

Getting treatment and still making a living were certainly concerns for Doris, back here in Lawrence County. Then her doctor in Mt Vernon sent her for a mammogram in nearby Aurora, and was even able to refer her to an Oncologist and chemotherapy clinic in nearby Monett, just around the corner from the Tyson plant where she works.

“This is very valuable to me 10-13-or 14 minutes from where I live, then if I have to go to work I can go to work or go home and rest,” said Elbers.

Samantha Carlson is one of the oncology certified nurses who take care of up to 17 patients a day here at the Oncology Hematology Associates Clinic, based in Springfield. All of the patients getting treatment in Monett are like Elbers, relieved to find their treatment in their community.

“Our patients go through so much,” said Carlson. “It affects every aspect of their life, whether it be financially, emotionally, it affects their relationships. I think this is just one way to lessen one of those burdens by getting care closer to home.”

Elbers says she can already feel her tumor shrinking, saying “God is good to me.”

And she’s planning on a full recovery, thanks to the medical treatment she’s getting so close to home.

“I’m grateful for this place, it makes a big difference,” said Elbers.

That clinic in Monett is owned and operated by Springfield’s Oncology Hematology Associates. Several smaller communities in the Ozarks have chemo clinics thanks to Mercy and Cox Hospitals. And there are dozens of medical clinics in more rural areas, even buses that take mammography to even smaller towns. So the gap between urban and rural medical care here in the Ozarks continues to narrow.

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