Bridging the Great Health Divide: Agency provides access to health care in rural communities of Arkansas

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 11:47 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Across the Mid-South, there’s an ongoing issue of too many people and not enough doctors.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Services says over 500,000 people in the state live in an area defined by the federal government as lacking the adequate number of health professionals to serve the population.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, 50 out of 75 counties in the state fully or partially meet that definition.

With almost 44 percent of Arkansans living in rural areas, access to care is a big issue. The Arkansas Minority Health Commission is aware of this and it’s the reason behind their mobile health unit.

“We’re basically a clinic on wheels,” said Cindy Arreola, mobile health unit coordinator for the Arkansas Minority Health Commission. “We go around through the state of Arkansas, different counties. Our goal is to hit every county in Arkansas, offering free preventative screenings for minority health populations.”

The mobile health unit began traveling in early 2019. Arreola says all of the services they provide are free.

“We do things like blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol screenings, BMI checks, things that are most prevalent among minority populations” she explained.

Arreola says they follow up with patients who have abnormal results every three months.

“What we’re big on is letting them know their numbers and where they are at to see if they need to go to the doctor, if they need to get extra help, and what we usually do is we like to find local free clinics to refer them to as needed” said Arrelola.

Since the COVID-19 vaccine became available, the unit has been partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield to help vaccinate the Natural State.

Blue Cross Blue Shield contacts local pharmacies that supply the vaccine. Express Rx was the pharmacy on site helping the day Action News 5 visited the unit.

“Our pharmacies have administered over 35,000 vaccines across our 30 locations,” said Eric Crumbaugh, director of clinical business at Express Rx.

Crumbaugh received the vaccine in January. He says the recent Delta surge brought in more patients.

“The interest in vaccines really increased. I can say that you know several people that I offered the vaccine to said that they did not want to get it, and then they saw younger people affected and what this Delta variant was capable of,” he said.

Aside from providing the vaccine, Crumbaugh says they also play a big role in rural communities.

“We know that one of the challenges is access to health care and so in a rural community, you may not have a hospital or a primary care clinic, but in a lot of our communities, we have a pharmacy. And so you know we’re there to answer questions and to kind of provide that extra assurance of yes, you need to actually go to the hospital,” Crumbaugh said.

Every year, the unit sees roughly 1,000 people and has Spanish translators on staff.

Arreola says the unit has helped identify areas where their help is most needed.

“I would say throughout the entire Delta, the most vulnerable populations are the ones that show up the most,” she said.

If you’d like the mobile health unit to come to your community, you can reach out to them online or by calling 501-912-7402.

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