'Everybody is family': Making steps to improve health in the Arkansas Delta

Small town improves health care access

MCGEHEE, Ark. (KTHV) - McGehee has one stop light. Many who live there used to travel miles for health treatment or certain lab work.

Recently, the town's 52-year-old hospital received major improvements and a new health clinic is already improving lives of those who live in the Delta.

“We have so many people and so few people to take care of them,” said Dorothy Smith. Dr. Ronnie Norris said, "We recognized several years ago we didn't have a lot of infrastructure to attract physicians. We didn't have a clinic for anyone to work in.”

Three years ago, he and a team of others decided they were ready to address the town’s inadequate medical service. It’s always been a major concern. Still, in its early stages, the McGehee Family Clinic is already making a significant difference in the community.

“Everybody is family, you get to know everybody or someone that's connected to somebody,” Smith said.

Smith, a retired nurse who worked at the hospital for 26 years, is now a patient at the new clinic. She's hopeful doctors looking to establish themselves or relocate their practice will consider her small town.  

“We currently have four, but built the clinic for six,” said Norris of his staff. He hopes to fill two remaining physician openings at the clinic soon. With new lab equipment, x-ray equipment, and exam rooms there's now plenty to attract healthcare personnel.

“A lot of the things we used to have to travel to Little Rock for, we can do in our new clinic and expanded hospital,” Gibbs Ferguson said.

Ferguson is a retired district judge and donated a substantial amount of money to help update the hospital. In rural small towns, it’s hard to attract and even harder to keep, especially when you've got a facility that hasn't been touched since 1975.

“The entire ER was no bigger than the room we're sitting in right now,” said John Heard, Chief Executive Officer. He admitted that patient privacy has always been a big concern. In 2016, the community raised funds to build a new and improved ER wing.

“Our emergency department was literally just a section of the hospital that you walked in and you were there. There was no privacy, all we had were curtains. You could step from one room to the other within arm's length,” said Heard.

The new department was built with that issue and many others in mind. Now, nurses have a centralized station that allows them to see everything happening around them.

"McGehee is a special place," Norris said. "These people have prayed me through two cancer surgeries and 21 chemotherapies."

Norris said the clinic x-ray equipment was funded by the Delta Regional Authority. The facility itself cost around $2.2 million and another $700,000 for other equipment. Everything else was made possible by private donations and small-town support.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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