Lowndes Chamber sponsors healthcare discussion

Published 6:43 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce (LCCOC) held a meeting on Dec. 7 at the White Hall Town Hall, inviting officials, business partners, and citizens to a discussion around options for providing healthcare to county residents.

“One of the things that is foremost in my heart is looking at the health services available here in our county,” said Ozelle Hubert, President, CEO, and Interim LCCOC Director. “In our county, there is a desperate need [for healthcare.] We see it repeatedly.”

Hubert has been working with Mitchell Monsour, a consultant and President of Mercator Health Advisors, to assess the county’s needs as well as the type of services the area can support.

“We initially looked at a 25-bed, critical access hospital,” Hubert said. “It was determined that our population would not support that, but we can look at establishing a rural health clinic.”

Monsour presented the group with his findings from a UAB rural healthcare program funded by Community Health Access and Rural Transformation Grant from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. His presentation included information related to what other Alabama counties and areas of Mississippi are doing to provide healthcare as well as the costs and revenue generated by rural healthcare systems. 

“Healthcare in the rural south, in Mississippi and Alabama, it’s your number one economic engine,” Monsour said. “If you don’t have healthcare, you don’t have a lot to work with.

“People need healthcare. You have to follow the money. It’s not just billing, revenue, and expenses, you have to get into cost-based reimbursement and some other financial models.”

According to Monsour, rural health clinics provide a good option for counties like Lowndes, where residents are within traveling distance to hospitals in Montgomery and Selma, but need basic services closer to home.

“[There are] numbers of people who have obesity, that eventually goes to diabetes, diabetes goes to kidney disease and kidney failure and then dialysis,” Monsour said. “That’s the progression we have without any kind of primary care and prevention starting from school age and up.”

Monsour told the group that cost-based operation of a rural clinic, with reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, would fund primary health care, behavioral health consults, and other much-needed medical services for county residents.

State funding is also available to help with startup, Monsour said.

“The State’s got all this money but they have to decide how to distribute it,” Monsour said. “It’s not that much to get something started and to get someone here in the county to operate it. It’s tragic that there is no healthcare entity here.”

Aubrey Carter, Community Relations Manager with Alabama Power came to the discussion as an indication of the utilities commitment to support the county.

“Our position is to support the community,” Carter said.

Robert Stewart, State Senator for District 23, said he has seen firsthand the detrimental impact of the lack of health care in communities.

“When you talk about community development, healthcare is essential,” Stewart said. “I went to a college in the Black Belt in a community that did not have any hospital and so, it’s personal for me. I think that everyone has a basic need for access to health care. I want to do whatever I can to improve the outcome and improve the quality of life for the citizens of State District 23.”

All Lowndes County mayors were invited to the conversation. Delmartre Bethel of White Hall hosted the meeting, and health concerns prevented Anne Spooner of Lowndesboro from attending. Other mayors were not present for the discussion.

Hubert plans to continue the conversation and said the White Hall meeting was just a starting point.

“Maybe this will cause small ripples,” Hubert said. “I think it’s a good place to start and generate interest.”

Hubert and Monsour presented information from the meeting at the Dec. 12 County Commission meeting and plan to host further discussions in the near future.