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A Small Alabama Town Has Only Two Doctors; What Will Happen To Their Patients When They Retire?

As physicians Al and Terry Vester head towards retirement, their patients wonder where to turn for medical care they can trust.

Lafayette is a small, predominately Black farm town in Alabama with 2,700 residents and only two primary care doctors. The residents unable to make it to the nearest urgent care clinics and emergency rooms –over 20 minutes outside of town – have recently turned to the city’s fire department as a healthcare resource. The local fire station has a make-do exam area with a bench, a defibrillator machine, and a cabinet stocked with medical supplies. The Vesters, now in their 60s, have serviced the people of Lafayette for over 30 years. They are excited about the options available to their patients, but still worry that their absence will worsen the growing health concerns in the area.

“There are people here that still need in-town doctors,” said Terry, who sometimes makes home visits. “So we want to stay here to take care of them until someone else is here to take care of them.” Some of the patients the Vesters see regularly are people they’ve cared for since birth. “You know everyone, or you have a connection with someone.”

Lafayette residents now have a more high-tech and easily accessible option for telehealth support, a service known as the OnMed Care Station. Equipped with a video screen and health-monitoring equipment, patients can collect their vital signs, check their heart and lungs with a stethoscope, and use a camera to capture everything from rashes to sore throats for proper diagnosis by their healthcare providers.

The kiosks are part of the Chambers County Community Health and Wellness Center operated by nearby Auburn University, which hosts various educational events to equip Alabama’s rural areas with pertinent medical information.

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