Wherever poverty, geographic isolation, or other factors create a shortage of health professionals or health insurance, connecting people with the care they need becomes a critical challenge. About two-thirds of Kentucky’s counties are on the Health Resources and Services Administration’s list of “health professional shortage areas,” averaging only one doctor for every 3,000-3,500 residents. But throughout the state, Kentucky communities are finding innovative ways to get affordable health care to the people who need it:
In northeastern Kentucky’s large and mostly rural Lewis County, the Primary Care Center counts on technological advances such as medical teleconferencing to connect far-flung health care professionals and electronic recordkeeping to keep the cost of care as low as possible for patients.
At the Kentucky Homeplace program in Hazard (co-founded by CommonHealth panelist Dr. Gilbert H. Friedell), lay medical workers help patients navigate care options across 50 counties.
The Angels Community Clinic in Calloway County provides a team of dedicated medical volunteers—from pharmacists to dentists—who live up to the clinic’s name by providing free care and prescriptions to income-eligible patients.
And in rural Clay and Leslie counties, the clinics run by Frontier Nursing Healthcare, Inc. carry on the legacy of Mary Breckinridge, who came to Leslie County in 1925 to found the Frontier Nursing Service. Breckinridge created a network of nurse-midwives who traveled Eastern Kentucky’s hills and hollows, often on horseback, to provide care. Eunice Ernst, known as Miss Kitty when she was one of them more than 50 years ago, shares her memories of those days of treating people on neighbors’ porches and helping to grow food for herself and her fellow nurses.
These days, the Frontier Nurses staff four rural health clinics, and the historic home once occupied by their founder and inspiration has been converted into a bed-and-breakfast— with the proceeds helping to support FNS health care services.