SELMA – Friday was a morning made for the indoors and that’s just where celebrants huddled after they first had a chance to praise an organization established to help country folks.
The occasion was a groundbreaking event for the Rural Health Medical Program, Inc. that continues to grow across the region.
Those who turned out under chilly, windy temperatures wore coats, sweaters, scarves and whatever else they could find in their closets before heading to the celebration.
“Thanks for showing up today because it’s cold out here,” said a laughing John Gragg, a Wilcox County resident in his 80s who wouldn’t think of missing the event.
He hung in just the same after being asked to speak before U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell stood to pledge her support for more medical facilities in underserved locations.
“I can’t tell you how important it is to have access to quality, affordable health care in rural parts of Alabama,” said Sewell, who grew up in Dallas County which is one of the areas being served.
The program was held outside a building constructed 40 years ago and used for more limited medical services. Thanks to $1.2 million in federal funds, the building will soon be renovated to provide five needed services.
“Rural health facilities often make the difference between life and death for people and are an essential part of the fabric of any community,” said Sewell, a former cheerleader at Selma High School who later studied abroad before returning home to become a political star.
She lavished praise on the facility’s organizers who were able to “leverage limited resources to do such an amazing job. This is a credit to everyone here.”
Agreeing nods were everywhere at the event because some of those who attended played key roles in helping it to grow since 1977 when it was created.
“This is tremendous for us in Selma,” said Mayor Dario Melton, who said good health care plays an important role in attracting new businesses and industries.
In addition to Selma, the organization has medical facilities in Camden, Demopolis, Marion, Thomaston, Uniontown and other rural communities.
As the program slowly grew, it continued to look for places that could be altered from original uses such as the Wilcox County Board of Education Building.
Don King, a member of group’s board of directors who has finished his first year, was happy to answer questions about the organization.
“I was impressed from the start with the morale of the professionals who work at these medical facilities,” he said. “People in this area go to them for good health care and that’s what they receive.”
Sewell, who said continued growth is important to help medically underserved residents in the Black Belt region of Alabama, pointed to the need for expansion of Medicaid.
“Many of our rural hospitals in Alabama are in jeopardy and that’s why I look at our rural medical facilities as ‘truly a labor of love as well as a victory for our communities,’” she said.
The event concluded with supporters of the Rural Health Medical Program standing side by side with shovels in hand, waiting for the signal to pick up some soil in a symbolic gesture of even greater things to come.
It was an even more meaningful event for Sewell who may be one of America’s most important politicians, but still remains a Selma girl at heart who loves to come home to see relatives whenever she has a chance.
She finished her comments with a flourish by reminding the big crowd that it won’t be long before five new medical services will be operating out of the renovated, expanded building where the celebration was held.
At that point everybody moved quickly into the building to get warm.
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