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GREAT HEALTH DIVIDE: Doctor shortage, no primary care physicians in Grant Parish

It comes as a no brainer, when you’re sick, you go see a doctor. But what if there’s no primary care physician to see?
Published: Apr. 5, 2021 at 2:36 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 5, 2021 at 10:55 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Grant Parish has been designated by the federal government as a health professional shortage area since 1978 because it does not have enough primary care physicians.

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, in 2010, the parish had three primary health care doctors, in 2018, there were just two, but now, that number is even lower.

Federal data shows that the parish needs at least four full-time primary care doctors to meet a goal of one doctor for every 3,500 residents.

According to Office of Public Health Region Six Medical Director Dr. David Holcombe, there are currently no medical doctors that practice in the parish.

“Grant Parish really doesn’t have a doctor,” Holcombe said.

When it comes to patient care in the parish, nurse practitioners are leading the way.

“There is a health provider shortage, especially in rural areas. New graduates aren’t looking to move to the country like some of us enjoy, so nurse practitioners are filling the void,” said Trinity Community Health Centers of Louisiana Executive Director, Deano Thornton.

Family Nurse Practitioner Robin Brodnax is filling the gap and providing care to patients in Grant Parish. She’s one of two nurse practitioners who works at the East Grant Community Health Center in Pollock, who sees anywhere from 20 to 40 patients per day.

“Although there is a primary care physician shortage in rural areas, nurse practitioners have been trained to address the medical needs of our patients in these areas.”

East Grant Community Health Center Family Nurse Practitioner, Robin Brodnax

Medical needs that Brodnax said she’s able to understand as someone who lives in the parish.

“We are addressing the hypertension and diabetes. We know that opioid addiction and the problems that surround opioid addiction are affecting our communities, families, our economy, and therefor we have been trained and we are addressing those needs.”

East Grant Community Health Center Family Nurse Practitioner, Robin Brodnax

BJ Colvin is also addressing the health care needs of people in Grant Parish. He’s the sole family nurse practitioner at the Montgomery Family Clinic, and also owns Dry Prong Family Clinic, often seeing anywhere from 100 to 150 people per week.

“We’re running tests, we’re interpreting tests, we’re ordering tests, we’re prescribing,” said Colvin.

According to Colvin, diagnosing takes good judgment skills and outside-of-the-box thinking.

“Rural health presents a challenge of your history of that patient, and that physical exam of that patient is vital in that moment.”

That’s because the clinic doesn’t have on-site labs, imaging or other equipment.

“There are people that aren’t able to read and write, and how do you deliver education and tell them how to take medicines, or exercise, or eat right?”

Montgomery Family Clinic Family Nurse Practitioner, BJ Colvin

Especially when it’s already a challenge to find healthy food in the parish.

“In Montgomery, Louisiana where do you go to get fresh fruits and vegetables?” Colvin asked.

This may be why 20.5 percent of adults in Grant Parish have diabetes.

“The whole problem of food deserts and access to healthy food, that’s all a problem related to poverty and education,” said Dr. David Holcombe. “It’s having them committed to the community and integrated into the community, and that goes for nurse practitioners, it also goes for physicians,” said Dr. David Holcombe.

This makes it that much more important for people in Grant Parish to have access to a health care provider so that everyone in the parish can have access to the care they need.

“Many people in Grant Parish who have mobility actually come to Alexandria for medical care. That means that the people who are there giving care (in Grant Parish) are all the more critical because there is a residual population that really doesn’t have that opportunity.”

Office of Public Health Region Six Medical Director Dr. David Holcombe

It’s important to note that both the Montgomery Family Clinic and the East Grant Community Health Center have collaborating physicians who live in different areas of the state.

If needed, a nurse practitioner in the parish would be able to refer their patients to a higher level of care.

The East Grant Community Health Center and Grant Community Health Clinic do provide transportation for their patients. There are also school-based health centers designed for parents to go to work and students to get health care in the classroom.

In order to recruit new nurses and doctors to the parish, the East Grant and Grant clinics offer a student loan forgiveness program of up to $75,000.

If there is an emergency in the parish, the Montgomery Family Clinic and East Grant Community Health Center would activate their emergency responses until an ambulance arrives. The closest hospitals in most cases would be either Rapides Regional Medical Center or Cabrini.

We will continue to look into the Great Health Divides that exist in Central Louisiana and surrounding parishes.

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