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Winn Parish woman calls hospital proximity a key factor in surviving COVID-19

Great Health Divide: Winn Parish doctor takes pride in providing care to rural patients. Some procedures that would have been referred to other medical centers are able to take place locally now.
Published: Apr. 5, 2021 at 11:50 PM CDT
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WINN PARISH, La. (KNOE) - Taking care of patients is a passion for Dr. Eric Dupree. A calling he answered in 2003, when he moved to Winn Parish. A similar landscape to his Red River Parish roots.

“And this was a very similar community and it just worked out that they needed a physician at the time that I was finishing up my residency and this is where I landed,” explained Dr. Dupree.

A decade ago, there were three doctors in Winn Parish.

“I really didn’t have a full time physician in Winnfield before Dr. Dupree came here,” recalled longtime patient Angel Allen-Martin.

A large vulnerable population lives here. It’s one of the factors that caused the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to label it “high needs” in 1979. However, as of 2018, more doctors practice here. Data shows a 167-percent increase.

Doctor David Holcombe with the Louisiana Department of Health said the additional healthcare providers are “almost entirely” due to the Winn Community Health Center, a federally qualified health center. It receives money from the HRSA Health Center Program to provide services in underserved areas.

“Which brought in a number of those providers that you mentioned and that serviced the area tremendously. We got a new Winn Wellness, which is a rural health clinic that’s part of the hospital, that’s also offering a lot more services now, so we’ve seen the development of a lot of new clinics, new access for our patients into the hospital and new resources that really have enhanced our community’s ability to take care of patients,” Dupree said.

Angel Allen-Martin grew up in Winn Parish. She remembers what it was like to drive an hour and 20 minutes away to a doctor in Monroe.

“When he and his partner came and set their practice up, we were very very excited that he came,” Allen-Martin recalled.

A welcome relief to the now long-time patient. Last year’s pandemic put her family through the test.

“I was very, very sick, sicker than I realized.”

Both she and her husband contracted COVID-19. In addition to fever for more than two weeks, both lost a significant amount of weight. Much too weak to take medication, eventually Allen-Martin drove both herself and her husband to Winn Parish Medical Center.

“He had pneumonia in one lower left lung, and I had double pneumonia and a calcium deficiency that was pretty critical,” Allen-Martin recalled.

She believes she’s alive today because the hospital is close. The road to recovery was five minutes away from her home, instead of roughly 70 miles.

“If I had to drive 45 min to see a doctor when I was still going through COVID, I don’t know if I could have made it , to be honest, I don’t know if I could have made it,” she said.

That’s part of Dr. Dupree’s “why”: The ability to help people’s health flourish. Just like him, they can also bloom right where they’re planted. Whether he’s seeing patients at his own clinic, Winn Family Medicine or at Winn Parish Medical Center.

Dr. Eric Dupree said, “we can do a lot of things in regard to surgical needs, but we also have the capability to do some testing that we might now would have been able to do in the past.”

Eighteen-years-ago, he came here as a problem-solver but he acknowledges the challenges that remain.

“There’s things that we cannot do, our resources are still not as plentiful as they would be in a larger city, but we do everything we can to keep the patient right here. Putting them in our hospital is a much better opportunity and option than having to stick them on an ambulance and shipping them out of the parish,” said Dupree.

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