By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Many residents in rural areas need health care, but run into roadblocks so a health-care disparities conference will be held at Kings Fork Middle School in Suffolk on June 11 from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. “It took us several months to plan it,” Bock said. “First, we had to identify those in the community who had a desire to do something about the disparities. We will deal with geographic isolation, kinship ties, and informal caregiving systems. We will talk about obstacles and the challenges with utilizing health care. The complexities of the health care system can be overwhelming at times.”
Plain arithmetic shows why it’s sometimes overwhelming for rural residents to obtain health care. Specifically, more than 470 rural hospitals closed in the past 25 years, according to the National Rural Health Association. As a result, rural residents must travel long distances to reach a doctor or hospital. Oh, here’s another fact: The rural poor are less likely to be covered by Medicaid.
For this reason, the upcoming conference will come on the heels of a health disparities conference that attracted about 200 a few years ago in Virginia Beach. About three dozen people from that first conference helped plan this conference called The Grand Gathering 2: Health Disparities in Rural Communities of Color. This year’s conference is free and includes a free breakfast and lunch.
The keynote speaker will be Dr. L.D. Britt, M.D., a Suffolk native, and Harvard Medical School graduate, who chairs the Department of Surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Britt holds the Edward J. Brickhouse Chair in Surgery. He will speak at 9 a.m. To clarify the Affordable Care Act, organizers will present a workshop, The Affordable Care Act: The Call is the Law from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. The panelists will include Dr. Susan Triggs, rural health specialist with the Virginia Department of Health; Jill Hanken, a Virginia Poverty Law Center attorney who concentrates on health law; Dr. Donney John, executive director of NOVA ScriptsCentral, a non- profit pharmacy that provides medications to uninsured patients; and Tanya Kearney, a faculty member at Eastern Virginia AIDS Resource and Consultation Center.
Thanks to an $8,000 federal grant awarded in March, conference organizers aim to attract about 300 to this year’s event. “Everyone who comes will be able to fellowship, pick up valuable information, and hear from leading experts,” Bock said. Another conference organizer is Barbara Wiggins who retired from the Army in 1999 and in 2003 launched Providential Credit Care Management Inc., a non-profit in Smithfield. Its primary aim is to help first-time homebuyers especially single mothers become credit worthy and qualify for loans. The service is free, except for a one-time $10 charge for credit reports.
Wiggin’s non-profit is housed in a pre-World War I, two-story frame house that was once the parsonage for the church she attends, Main Street Baptist. Her desk, storage cabinets and a file cabinet were donated by the Red Cross. Her husband, Bill, a computer analyst, donated two of his computers for her office. She threw in her own fax machine and desk copier. “We have had several events on health disparities prior to this event,” Wiggins said. “This conference comes at the end of about seven clinics we have already held. The clinics were classes that taught people about the Affordable Care Act in different rural communities.”Wiggins said she became one of the conference organizers because her non-profit helps people who run into multiple economic roadblocks, including accessing healthcare. “Organizing this conference has been a team effort,” Wiggins said.
“People should come because many people in rural areas are suffering from depression and other illnesses,” Wiggins explained. “No, we cannot solve every single problem with a conference that lasts a few hours because there will be afterthoughts and questions.” Still, the goal is to eliminate health-care roadblocks. “The next step after this conference is for people to remember that many experts and other groups were at this conference,” Wiggins said. For more information, please phone 469-4053.