OKLAHOMA rural health care

Monday, September 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

If you live inside Tulsa's City limits, you've probably got a shot getting at pretty good healthcare, but the further you get from the center of Tulsa, the worse-off you're likely to be.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control says "distance" can be deadly. News on Six reporter Tami Marler explains. Barbara Miller is rare. She's in training in Ramona, to become a family physician in a small Western Oklahoma town. She knows she'll never get rich. "The compensation isn't as great as you would expect for the amount of time and effort that you would put into it. So I think a lot of it kind of boils down to just wanting to make a difference in people's lives, and I know that sounds kind of corny, but it's the truth."

Doctor Michael Woods is training Barbara Miller to become a rural family physician. "It's a service. Most of what you do is a service and a commitment in the rural areas." In Ramona, they run into many of the same health issues that face the rest of rural Oklahoma. Much of it centers on smoking, and a host of other illnesses that can be prevented. "Not everybody is ready to quit smoking when you talk to them so sometimes you have to work with them over time to get them to quit smoking." About a quarter of adults in Oklahoma smoke, higher than the national average of 22.7%. Oklahoma's children are at even greater risk for becoming addicted to nicotine.

Another major issue is poverty. "Most rural physicians are doing all they can to manage and take care of that population, but it's difficult with the resources out there." Poverty is directly related to health, and Oklahoma ranks 44th in the nation when it comes to income. One-fourth of adult Oklahomans don't even have health insurance. The statistics may seem insurmountable. Barbara Miller: "Once you get in the business and you see that you can really make a difference. It takes a lot of work but you can really make a difference in people's lives, and it's worth continuing." Statistics can change, thanks to rare doctors like Barbara Miller.

According to the CDC, rural areas have 80 physicians per 100,000 people; compared with 308.5 in cities, and 223.5 in the suburbs. Overall, we're all healthier today than we were 25 years ago, but folks in the suburbs are in the best health.