Thousands across the South Plains are constantly without immediate emergency health care. It's a rural trend that could eventually strip small communities of health care altogether. In a special report, NewsChannel 11 gives you the findings of a two week investigation into how communities are now trying to fend off the demise of rural healthcare.
Rural population in West Texas is declining, which makes it difficult to support health care facilities. In fact, 27 West Texas counties have one or no physician. However, one local community is battling to keep its clinic.
In the town of Post, one physician sees 4,000 patients. That is, unless they take after Post resident, Pepper Edwards. "We don't have a specialized pediatrician in post so we go to Lubbock. We want to have the best care," says Edwards.
Thousands travel to see Lubbock doctors and use its hospitals everyday. University Medical Center reports 37% of last year's inpatient admissions came from counties other than Lubbock. At Covenant, inpatient and outpatient admissions from outside counties make up almost 50%. Those numbers are partly due to the fact that many rural counties have only one physician or no physicians.
Texas Tech Vice President for Rural and Community Health, Patti Patterson says, "When your physicians leave, your hospital goes down. All that revenue actually just starts bypassing the small town." Patterson said the steady population decline in West Texas counties makes it difficult to support a practice or a hospital. Garza memorial hospital closed in 1996.
Vicki Gray with the Garza County Health Clinic said, "As a citizen of Garza County, I've seen it coming for a long time and it's just hard to support and maintain a rural hospital."
Garza county is fighting back. When Covenant closed its clinic in Post in 2003, Garza County opened its own clinic, treating 650 patients a month. The Garza County Hospital District remains in tact, collecting $400,000 a year to support that clinic.
Patterson said, "Often your older people will think they need to move, the people who worked there are out of jobs. You can really get into a spiral so it's very important to keep that healthcare infrastructure there."
The doctor that works at the clinic in Post right now only works two days a week. In August, another physician will live in Post and work full-time at the clinic. They're hoping to attract those who drive to Lubbock for health-care.