The Delta Regional Authority is working hard to improve life for the residents of the 240 counties and parishes we serve in eight states. One of the major ways we’re doing this is through healthcare initiatives. I recently told you about the diabetes awareness and prevention program we’re implementing across the region. Another thing we’re doing in the healthcare sector is trying to increase the number of doctors serving the Delta.
We’ve implemented the Delta Doctors program. The program allows foreign physicians who are trained in this country to work in medically underserved areas for three years. Many of these doctors will choose to stay in our region far longer once they develop a patient base. Let me stress that those in the Delta Doctors program do not take jobs away from U.S.-born physicians. Instead, they provide services in areas where otherwise there would be a shortage of physicians.
The Delta Regional Authority is one of the few government agencies allowed to recommend visa waivers to the State Department. Medical school graduates from other countries normally are required to return to their home countries for at least two years after completing their education. The J-1 visa waiver obtained under the Delta Doctors program allows them to stay in the United States if they spend at least three years in medically underserved areas. These physicians must provide primary care in their specialty fields for at least 40 hours a week. They also must provide care to the indigent, Medicaid recipients and Medicare recipients. The Delta Doctors program accepts waiver requests for medical specialists.
We’ve already assisted with the placement of more than 50 physicians in our region. This program allows us to meet the healthcare needs of more Delta families than ever before as we bring doctors to underserved areas who otherwise wouldn’t be there. We’ll only recommend visa waivers within the 240 counties and parishes we serve. An employer must first make a good-faith effort for at least six months to recruit an American-born physician before requesting a waiver. We require evidence of these recruitment efforts. The foreign physician, in turn, must agree to provide primary medical care for not less than 40 hours per week in areas designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as shortage areas.
Consider these facts:
n Diabetes is the fifth-leading cause of death in this country.
n Seven percent of Americans (that’s 20.8 million people) have diabetes.
n A third of all people with diabetes don’t know they have it.
n Two out of three people with diabetes will die of a heart attack.
n People with diabetes are four times more likely to suffer a stroke.
Those with diabetes or who think they might have diabetes can take charge of their health and lead active lives. If you have diabetes, it’s especially important to manage blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. We’re trying to help Delta residents do that through the Healthy Delta program. The program is designed to reach as many people as possible, including minority audiences that traditionally have been hard to reach with healthcare messages. Working from a network of more than 4,000 churches in the eight states we serve, Healthy Delta will include a minority outreach component. We want to ensure the Healthy Delta program makes a real impact on the lives of Delta residents.
Complications from diabetes cost this country $132 billion each year in medical costs and lost productivity, according to the American Diabetes Association. Once we can educate people about the dangers and symptoms of diabetes, we will encourage them to seek treatment so they can participate in the region’s workforce. We’ll identify those who don’t have a doctor. We’ll put them in touch with local medical facilities and help connect them with the resources they need.
We believe a concentrated, organized effort to raise awareness about diabetes and give people a way to take charge of their health will create a greater quality of life for Delta families. In the process, we’ll have a positive, lasting effect on the region’s economy for years to come.
Pete Johnson of Clarksdale is the federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority. He was appointed by former President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2001.