Doctor shortage puts strain on local practice

Local doctor sees roughly 140 patients per week
Updated: Apr. 11, 2021 at 5:56 PM CDT
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PIGGOTT, Ark. (KAIT) - In the past decade, rural counties in the Arkansas Delta have lost half of their primary care doctors.

“It is concerning and I’m not sure what to do about it,” Doctor Dennis N. Blake said.

Dr. Blake is the only primary care physician at the Piggott Family Medical Clinic and sees roughly 140 patients a week.

“In general, yes, I stay quite busy,” Blake said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of between 21,400 and 55,200 primary care physicians by 2025, with even fewer physicians practicing in rural areas.

“It seems as though if there’s not a connection between a physician and a particular town it’s very difficult to convince them to come to a small town,” Blake said.

According to government data, several areas in the Delta and Appalachian regions do not have enough primary care doctors to care for their populations.

For Clay County, it varies. While Dr. Blake is the only doctor in Piggott, First Choice Healthcare in Corning has 5 primary health physicians.

However, nurse practitioners are helping to fill the gaps with a 33% jump in the number of nurse practitioners in Clay County between 2010 and 2019.

“I can’t be available all the time so that definitely helps,” Dr. Blake said. “I mean, they serve as frontline gatekeepers just like the physicians do.”

But while nurse practitioners are helping to carry the load right now, he worries about the future of healthcare in the town he calls home.

“I’m getting close to retirement age,” Blake said “I just hope that there’s someone who will step up and come back. We’ve not been without a physician in town my entire life and to think that we might be without one would be pretty troubling.”

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