PICAYUNE, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s usually a simple equation, if you get sick, you go see a doctor. However, for people across the country and in many places in Mississippi, it isn’t that easy.
The United States is facing a critical shortage of primary care physicians, a problem that’s even worse in rural areas. Healthcare workers are working to make sure people get the care they need to lead a healthy life.
Providing medical care is a passion for Gina Rivero. She’s a nurse practitioner at Highland Pediatric and Primary Care Rural Health Clinic in Picayune.
“I love taking care of the people in my own community,” said Rivero.
Rivero is one of dozens of nurse practitioners in Pearl River County, a county that has been designated by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration as a high needs health professional shortage area.
Data shows there aren’t enough primary care doctors to meet the needs of residents, but nurse practitioners like Rivero are filling the gap.
“I just felt like that I could reach some people that otherwise wouldn’t get healthcare,” said Rivero.
There has been a huge increase in the number of nurse practitioners in the county. There were 47 in 2019, up from just 19 in 2010.
“Nurse practitioners are extremely important. You see them everywhere now. They’re extremely important in the rural areas,” said Forrest Health Regional Administrator Bryan Maxie.
Maxie said between nurse practitioners and physicians there’s not a shortage of care in the county, but admits finding doctors who want to work in rural areas can be difficult.
“Most of them want to be in these big groups and the big cities so they don’t have to deal with the call situation,” said Maxie. “Or they just want to work in just outpatient, not inpatient. Or vice versa.”
Nurse practitioner Christie Kellar opened her own clinic in Picayune nearly four years ago to help patients who don’t have a primary care doctor.
“We get to treat all the same comorbidities or chronic diseases and it’s very helpful because it utilizes nurse practitioners to treat those things where we don’t have a physician available,” said Kellar.
There’s also another problem that’s keeping people in Pearl River County from getting the healthcare they need, some can’t afford it.
That’s where Manna Ministries has stepped in. The non-profit offers free medical care to the uninsured.
“Free clinics are a safety net, they’re a vital role. They play a vital part in health care in our county,” said Manna Ministries executive director Jameye Martin.
“If we weren’t here people would go without medical care,” said Dr. D.L. Bolton, Medical Director for Manna Ministries.
Martin said the clinic keeps patients out of the emergency room.
“The culture has been to go to the emergency room to be treated for whatever ailment is. And I think that we have made end roads into changing that culture,” said Martin.
Whether it’s a primary care physician, nurse practitioner, or a free clinic, each has the same goal: To get the right care to those who need it most.