For the fifth year in a row, the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), a White House Rural Council member, is partnering with the Department of Defense (DOD) to provide rural health care via the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program. Working in the Mississippi Delta Region, where today 20 percent of the population is uninsured, this summer’s missions are taking on a new role by educating communities about the new and affordable coverage options that the Affordable Care Act is making available beginning in 2014.
Since 2009, IRT has brought military medical personnel in-training to underserved communities of the Delta region to provide free medical care to residents. DRA plays the vital role of guiding communities through the application, planning, and implementation processes. During the past four years, military reserve forces have provided general medical care, optical care, dental care, veterinary services, nutritional education, mental health care, and other support services to 24,000 Delta residents at ten sites across three states. And this summer, DRA and DOD are projected to reach an additional 20,000 patients in eleven communities across six states of the Delta – their most extensive outreach in the region to date.
Take the Hope of Martin medical mission in Martin, TN, where troops from the Navy Reserves, Air Force Reserves, and Air National Guard provided free health care services valued at more than $700,000 to more than 3,250 residents of western Tennessee. Along with immediate care, DRA has partnered with another White House Rural Council member, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services, to help DRA as it educates and connect patients to new health insurance options that will help them access affordable coverage long after the IRT mission is complete.
Another example is the Delta Medical Mission, which saw 5,771 patients and provided 10,000 resource cards at five sites over the month of July. And just this week, Army reservists were deployed to four communities in Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee for the Four State Medical mission as well as to Ferriday, Louisiana, for the Louisiana Medical program. In just three days, this mission has seen 1,400 patients.
Every patient served can mean a life changed. In Martin, TN, residents began lining up for services as early as 2 a.m. One man, so nervous to see a dentist that he was allowed to keep his dog in his lap, had tooth extractions that were years overdue. Another man was found in a hallway later in the day crying because, as he explained, with his new glasses – made on-site – “it was the first time he had been able to see the world.”
The success of IRT is a testament to interagency collaboration facilitated by the work of the White House Rural Council and reaffirming President Obama’s commitment to rural America.
Dr. Mary Wakefield is the Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services. Chris Masingill is the Federal Co-Chairman for the Delta Regional Authority. Doug McKalip is the Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council.