I-Team: Challenges of medically under served communities - WNEM TV 5

I-Team: Challenges of medically under served communities

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FLINT, MI (WNEM) -

For many, going to the doctor when you're sick seems like second nature, but in some areas there aren't enough doctors for the amount of people.

As the I-Team discovered, Flint is one of the under served places.

"Meaning that we have more capacity than providers to do an adequate job to provide services to that population," said Clarence Pierce, CEO of Hamilton Community Health Network.

He said Flint qualifies as a medically under served area and has a health provider shortage. There are more people in Flint than family physicians, dentists and mental health providers combined defined by national standards.

"You know when you're in kind of a depressed area it's more difficult to compete with other communities that are recruiting. And many providers don't want to work with a medically under served population.

Some providers do, like Meneet Rawal. She is a dentist determined to make a difference in the city.

"I think it's just the satisfaction that you get serving a population that needs you," Rawal said.

Rawal said when she graduated from Detroit Mercy she knew she wanted to work in a medically under served area. She said she finds it to be very rewarding.

"I think they have extensive dental needs, rapid decay or so much dental neglect. You don't see it in patients that are well to do. It's a whole different set of needs," she said.

Wanting to work in an area like Flint wasn't Rawal's only factor in moving there. Since it's a medically under served area she qualifies for student loan repayment through the National Health Services Corps.

For many doctors leaving school with mountains of debt that's an attractive offer.

"Up to $50,000 to pay student loans for a two year commitment and after that, if you decide to extend it's $20,000 for the third year, $20,000 for the fourth year," Rawal said.

Pierce said there's other ways the Flint health community uses to recruit doctors. Some of those include teaching center residency programs and the amount of hospitals in the area.

Flint has its own special set of challenges. The effects of the water crisis on residents with lead in their body is unknown and in an area that has a doctor shortage that could potentially create problems in the future.

"No doubt about it. We're all very concerned. We're talking about it and trying to find ways to recruit physicians to the area," Pierce said.

Not only could there be an increased need of medical attention, but their doctor population is shrinking.

Pierce said recruitment programs are not the way to get more doctors to the area. It helps, but a lot more needs to be done to rebuild the city, he said.

"We'd like to see grocery stores in the medically under served areas so our folks can access fresh fruits and vegetables. The school system is a biggie," Pierce said.

He also said there needs to be more jobs created in the city.

"You're competing with the other communities in Michigan and it's hard for us sometimes in Flint to be competitive," he said.

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