President Barack Obama nominated for U.S. Surgeon General a rural Alabama family physician, Dr. Regina Benjamin, who is known along the impoverished Gulf Coast as a country doctor who makes house calls and doesn’t turn away patients who can’t pay, reported the AP.
She received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, and it was her work on behalf of the poor that President Obama praised in his nomination speech.
“Even though she could have left the state to make more money as a specialist or as a doctor in a wealthier community, Regina Benjamin returned to Alabama and opened a small clinic in Bayou La Batre.”
“When people couldn’t pay, she didn’t charge them. When the clinic wasn’t making money, she didn’t take a salary for herself. When Hurricane George destroyed the clinic in 1998, she made house calls to all her patients while it was rebuilt. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed it again and left most of her town homeless, she mortgaged her house and maxed out her credit cards to rebuild that clinic for a second time. She tended to those who had been wounded in the storm, and when folks needed medicine, she asked the pharmacist to send the bill her way.”
“And when Regina’s clinic was about to open for the third time, and a fire burned it to the ground before it could serve the first patient, well, you can guess what Dr. Benjamin did. With help from her community, she is rebuilding it again. One disabled patient brought her an envelope with $20 inside. Another elderly man said simply, ‘Maybe I can help. I got a hammer.'”
“For nearly two decades, Dr. Regina Benjamin has seen in a very personal way what is broken about our health care system. She’s seen an increasing number of patients who’ve had health insurance their entire lives suddenly lose it because they lost their jobs or because it’s simply become too expensive. She’s been a relentless promoter of prevention and wellness programs, having treated too many costly and — diseases and complications that didn’t have to happen. And she’s witnessed the shortage of primary care physicians in the rural and underserved areas where she works.”
“But for all that she’s seen and all the tremendous obstacles that she has overcome, Regina Benjamin also represents what’s best about health care in America — doctors and nurses who give and care and sacrifice for the sake of their patients; those Americans who would do anything to heal a fellow citizen.”