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Riley will attend rural action group meeting in Decatur

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — If you have little education, no job, no health insurance, no transportation and no knowledge of how to get such things, you may look in the mirror and see a face with no hope.

Organizers of the North Alabama Action Commission, which holds its organizational meeting Tuesday in Decatur, hope to identify solutions to such needs in rural North Alabama.

Gov. Bob Riley, Alabama Rural Action Commission Director Gerald Dial and former U.S. Rep. Ronnie G. Flippo, D-Florence, will attend the 2 p.m. meeting at the lecture hall of the Calhoun Community College Technology Building. The meeting is open to the public and welcomes volunteers.

“The mission is to focus on the needs in rural areas of North Alabama,” said Chad Nichols, assistant director of the Alabama Rural Action Commission, which Riley established to identify rural needs across the state.

Identify needs, solutions

Nichols said the organization will use knowledge gained from the state’s Black Belt commission to develop ways to identify needs and find solutions for other parts of the state.

While North Alabama’s needs may be different, Nichols said, he still expects surprises, even for the area’s experts. He used the Black Belt as an example.

“Some issues popped up that we had no idea about,” Nichols said.

One issue was the need for dialysis in an area with many diabetes patients and others with failing kidneys. Many patients had no way to travel long distances to dialysis facilities, Nichols said.

An Alabama Department of Public Health rule required that dialysis clinics be no more than a few miles from a hospital. But there are few hospitals in the Black Belt, which stretches across a poor, rural area of Central Alabama.

By working with Dr. Don Williamson, the state health officer, Nichols said, the commission was able to change the distance rule.

The Black Belt group also found that people in the area had a lack of information about health care and insurance resources.

A newly established Web site, www.healthinsurance.alabama.gov, has tools to help people find information specific to their needs based on their answers to confidential questions.

Nichols said the North Alabama group will identify its own priorities. Business and industrial recruiting, sources of help to get water and sewer service and roads to help attract businesses and job skills training are examples of the types of needs that the North Alabama commission might choose.

Bob Culver, executive director of the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments, is deputy co-chairman of the regional group, which also includes elected officials and other leaders from the region.

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