The Governor should form a Task Force on Rural Healthcare

Governor Ivey likes to commission study groups and task forces. When set up properly with the right mission, they can be quite effective in developing a broad-based and ranged policy that can actually solve the issues. They can also be used to delay solving a problem that is politically untenable. This Governor has used task forces and study groups for both purposes. It’s time that she considers setting up a study group or task force tasked with creating practical solutions to solve problems affecting our rural hospitals and healthcare providers.

There is clearly a systemic illness spreading throughout the rural healthcare system in the entire country, but it is especially hard-hitting in Alabama. Last week, it was announced that Pickens County Medical Center in Carrollton will be closing its doors after years of running deficit operational budgets. Unfortunately, this not an exceptional circumstance involving one medical center. This is happening to care providers all over the state. A study group or task force needs to look at every aspect of the problems in the healthcare system that are causing these closures of the rural hospitals. Those problems include shortages in providers and support personnel, operational losses, and infrastructure decay. We need to know how we can improve the overall health care system in the state, and we need to identify any other issues in the system.

In an ideal scenario, the state’s chief health officer should be the chairman of the study committee, with his department spearheading the committee’s efforts. I would also recommend asking Dr. Regina Benjamin to be on the committee. She clearly has a heart for public service, as she is a former United States Surgeon General, is serving on the governor’s gambling task force, and has decades of experience serving underprivileged rural communities in the state. She can bring a unique perspective to this ideal task force. The task force also needs to include members recommended by the Alabama Hospital Association, the Alabama Medical Association, the Nurse Practitioner Alliance of Alabama, the Alabama State Nurses Association, the Alabama Policy Institute, the Business Council of Alabama, and representatives of the legislature, and Alabama’s medical schools.

The Governor is fond of saying that ‘Alabama problems need an Alabama solution’, and she is correct. While the issues surrounding rural healthcare are not unique to Alabama, they do seem to be systemic and acute. This governor’s Alabama Healthcare Task Force should strive to complete their work and forward recommendations to the governor and the legislature by the beginning of next year’s legislative session.  That would allow any legislation or changes to regulations that need to be done to be accomplished in the next legislative session before politicians and Montgomery gear up for the 2022 election cycle. By continuing to choose to do nothing, we continue allow the consequences and effects of this illness in our rural healthcare system to be far, far more terrifying, deadly, and fast-acting than the Coronavirus. 

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