MONROE COUNTY, Ark. –  Three Arkansas counties are now designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas for primary care by the Health Resources and Services Administration. The Arkansas Department of Health said this designation will allow healthcare organizations to recruit medical professionals in rural communities.

The department added this new designation allows qualifying healthcare organizations to use federal funds to recruit medical professionals, like doctors, nurses, dentists, and behavioral healthcare professionals to rural areas in need by offering student loan repayment.

ADH officials said the designation can be based on several criteria, including geography, facilities, population, and medically underserved areas and populations.

Monroe pharmacist Marco Middleton said working in a rural community is like being on call 24/7. He said he hopes a new designation by the state will recruit more help.

“It’s very challenging being in a rural community. Not only do we have the health care disparities, we also have a shortage of primary providers,” Middleton said.

Middleton is also the owner of Brinkley Family Pharmacy and Middleton Family Pharmacy in Monroe County. He said the community has a population of just over 6,000 but they help service 66% of the county.

He said they opened their pharmacy in Brinkley three years ago and because of the limited amount of medical services in the rural community they aid people constantly.

“Whenever patients can’t get to the clinic or anything or if they’re uninsured were one of the first stops they make,” Middleton said.

However, Middleton said a lot of patients are forced to travel sometimes up to three hours out of the county because they have other medical needs the area can’t assist with.

He said some of the medical professionals they do have in the town also travel far to assist with needs.

“I can think of a handful of pharmacists that live within this county, most of the pharmacists that work with us are coming from other areas they are having an hour drive sometimes two,” said Middleton.

Middleton said there’s a shortage of medical professionals in the area but because they are in a rural part of Arkansas it can be difficult trying to hire help.

“You’re going one hour or a two hour drive so it is really difficult to try to recruit,” Middleton said.

But with the help of federal funds since the county was newly added as an HPSA, Middleton hopes this helps them get the hires they need.

“It would be an overwhelming benefit if we were able to get more medical professionals that live right here,” Middleton said.

Robert Wells is 73 years old and an Army veteran. He said he often buys his medicine from Brinkley Family Pharmacy, but he also must drive an hour out of the county for other medical services. He said it would be nice to have more care in town so he wouldn’t have to travel so much.