GPB Lawmakers Host Donna Lowry interviews (L to R) Dr. Patrice Harris, Dr. Sally Goza and Dr. Jacqueline Fincher
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GPB Lawmakers Host Donna Lowry interviews (L to R) Dr. Patrice Harris, Dr. Sally Goza and Dr. Jacqueline Fincher

Three of the country’s leading medical organizations are run by Georgian women who say they hope to focus efforts — at national levels — around improving healthcare in rural communities, which is a leading healthcare concern in Georgia.

President of the American College of Physicians Dr. Jacqueline Fincher, President American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Sally Goza and President American Medical Association Dr. Patrice Harris spoke to GPB Lawmakers’ Host Donna Lowry, breaking down how the impact the lack of access to healthcare can affect communities.

All three agreed, for example, healthcare is tied to economic development across the state.

“Small business still has to meet a bottom line," Fincher said. "And so that is why it is so important to have good jobs in those areas to have great industries in those areas, and to have health care in those areas.”

The governor, since the midterm elections, has promised to deliver on economic initiatives across rural parts of the state, with Georgia lagging in revenue outside large metro areas.

Fincher connected the economic drought in certain communities to the lack of attracting physicians to those same counties. Nine out of 159 counties have no physician at all, a 2018 report from the Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce found. Seventy-six counties also have no OB-GYN or psychologist and 60 are without a pediatrician, according to the same report.

With the lack of access to efficient healthcare in proximity of some of these communities, not everyone has “everyone has the opportunity and the chance to have the best healthcare, the adequate healthcare, appropriate health care, when and where they need it,” Goza said.

That can lead to long drive times for patients, even at Goza's practice south of Atlanta, she said.

“We do need to attract people to come to those areas and take care of those children. I live south of Atlanta, and 30 minutes south of me there are no pediatricians," Goza said. "They drive up for 30 minutes to see me and my practice. And so, that's just right outside of Atlanta. We have really an issue here.”

The lack of doctors in the state can also be tied multiple other issues plaguing the state, including maternal mortality which Georgia ranks nearly last among all 50 states. With a maternal mortality rate of 66.3 per 100,000 live births from 2013 to 2017, according to federal data released by America’s Health Rankings, it’s a number more than double the national average. 

Georgia created a House study committee on maternal mortality during the 2019 legislative session to look at the past three years of maternal death in the state. Data suggests, from the findings, 60% of these deaths were preventable.

Harris said the committee is a step in the right direction and is something the AMA would like to replicate at a national level and garner awareness to health issues and concerns that are not more common among women conventionally known.

“I have to say, oftentimes, we think that this may impact women who don't have insurance," she said. "We know that there are women who have insurance, women who are educated, who are still dying in childbirth.”

All agree they have drawn on their experiences as doctors in Georgia to set agendas for their organizations at the national level," Fincher said. “We are three powerful women and we want better for our state."