Channel 2 investigation finds many rural Georgia communities are dealing with doctor deserts

ATLANTA — Rural Georgia families say they’re living in doctor deserts, meaning they have no access to adequate medical care for their children.

Some families told Channel 2 Action News that they’re traveling more than an hour away just for checkups.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Ashli Lincoln found this is because there are no pediatricians in many of these communities.

She found there is a push from the state level to change this.

Families who Channel 2 Action News spoke with say they’re desperate and are willing to travel as far as they need for basic health care.

Barnesville stay-at-home mother Candace Harwood said healthcare for her two sons is hard to come by.

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Their small rural Georgia community only has one pediatrician.

“If we had more resources, especially in rural areas, I know we’re not the only family that has specific needs,” Harwood said. “Just to have more access to things because you never know what’s going to happen to your child.”

Her son David has a seizure disorder. The hardwood family makes monthly visits to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, turning checkups into road trips

“(It’s) 55 to 58 minutes below Atlanta. So you’re packing up all these bags, you’re packing extra outfits. Sometimes you’re packing blankets, making like little forwards in the bag so you can stop and rest and decompress,” Harwood said.

And she isn’t alone.


Albany mother Laterria Wagstaff told Lincoln that she drives an hour and a half for quality pediatric care for her children because she said local doctor’s offices are overcrowded and lack detailed care.

“I just felt like I spent more time in the waiting room versus being in a room with a doctor,” Wagstaff said. “I don’t care how high the gas is if I know that where I’m going is going to get my child the best care and that’s what I’m getting paid. No, no question.”

Dr. Lindsey Burnett is a pediatrician at Zoey Pediatrics in Barnesville. She told Lincoln that she sees firsthand families traveling across county lines to find adequate pediatric care.

Specialties in health and mental health for kids are few and far between,” Burnett said. “We do see a lot of patients that drive a long way to get to us.”

According to data Channel 2 Action News analyzed from the Georgia Composite Medical Board, more than 60 Georgia counties do not have a pediatrician.

We discovered Putnam and Haralson counties have one pediatrician practicing in their counties.

There are 15 pediatricians are registered in Rockdale County. In Newton, Gilmer, Pickens, and Spalding counties, there are 10 or fewer.

It’s a staggering contrast to metro counties like Fulton and DeKalb which have more than 600 registered pediatricians combined.

“This has definitely been on the radar with the Georgia Legislature,” said Amy Reeves, a pediatric physician assistant, and member of the Georgia Healthcare Workforce Commission. “You are not utilizing your workforce to their full potential, and you have rural Georgians who are not getting the care they need.”

Reeves said increasing the number of state-mandated physician assistants who can practice under a doctor would be pivotal in increasing healthcare in rural Georgia.

“Currently as it stands, one physician can supervise four nurse practitioners and four Pas,” Reeves said.

The commission outlines the need for allowing more PAs to assist in practicing medicine under a doctor’s supervision in a recent commission report sent to Gov. Brian Kemp last December by allowing more PAs to help assist and treat patients.

“We can definitely see patients, treat patients, order any dialogistic test that needs to be ordered,” Reeves said. “Georgia definitely lags behind the rest of the country.”

Back in rural Georgia, Harwood and thousands of other families say they hope pediatric care expansion comes soon.

“I think that it should be more readily available and then it’ll make you feel less isolated,” Harwood said.

From our investigation, we also found these communities are also dealing with a shortage of dentists, ER Doctors, and a psychologist -- a need as you can imagine these families desperately want.