Dr. Paul Bunnell knocks lightly on a hospital room door and enters slowly to visit with a patient during his morning rounds. Though this is a daily routine for him, his care is sincere and personalized. His voice is soft and calm, his questions genuine. He gently taps the knee of his patient, then walks out of the room and into the next.

Down the street, Dr. Jeannine Griffin is visiting with a 12-month-old girl and her mother during a check-up. The little girl flashes an almost toothless smile as Dr. Griffin places the cold stethoscope on her heart.

Bunnell, the hospitalist at Memorial Medical Center in Port Lavaca, and his wife, Griffin, a pediatrician in the area, have felt compelled to help those struggling to afford health care. They both view access to health care as a fundamental human right, not a privilege. But helping those who are underinsured, or uninsured altogether, is a difficult challenge in a state that has the highest rate of people who don’t have health insurance.

There are significant disparities between the health of rural Americans versus those living in urban areas. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, rural Americans tend to be older and sicker and have a greater risk of death from the five leading causes: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke.

What are some of the main factors contributing to these disparities? This is one of the many questions we will be probing with our “Rural Rx” series during the next year.

We will be covering topics ranging from uninsured patients, petrochemical plants and their long-term impacts on health, the primary care physician shortage, the rising cost of healthcare, mental health resources and more.

If you are suffering from a medical condition and seeking answers, you are likely not alone. Rural residents tend to feel more isolated from support for their health-care conditions. When Michael Flores, of Palacios, was diagnosed with an aortic dissection after being admitted to the Memorial Medical Center in Port Lavaca, he needed to be transferred for a more complicated emergency surgery. A story like his is all-too-common in rural areas and without the devotion of Bunnell, he might have died.

“Everybody deserves access to care,” Griffin said. “Everybody gets sick, and everybody deserves health care.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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