For 16 years there has been no docter in Fort Cobb, Okla.
Now the residents have figured out an ingenious way to get one. They're going to finance a hometown boy through use of the sales tax.
They had tried offering free office space and had gone to the state capital to complain about their problem, but they were still having to drive 10 miles or more for medical help whenever they got sick.
"It became evident to us that a doctor wasn't going to come to us voluntarily so we took it upon ourselves to try to instigate," said Floyd Ratliff, a supermarket owner and president of the local Chamber of Commerce. r
And so, in this tale of small-town ingenuity, Fort Cobb voted by 3 to 1 Tuesday to raise its sales tax for one year from 2 to 3 cents on the dollar to pay part of the tuition of a medical student who has promised to practice there when his studies are completed.
The $15,000 expected to be generated by the one-cent increase will be enough to help Bruce Mackey through his last three years at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.
Fort Cobb's resourceful solution to its dilemma is as novel as the problem is commonplace. Hundreds of rural and inner-city communities lack access to medical care, and the problem is worsening.
The National Medical Service Corps, set up eight years ago to get more doctors into rural areas, has 945 physicians serving in such areas. But by 1990, there will be 8,000 rural communities needing physician services. b
For Fort Cobb, population 750, the problem seems resolved. And Bruce Mackey, the sales-tax-scholarship recipient, is grateful.
"There are a lot of people in Fort Cobb who have helped me over the years. This way I feel like there's something to do to repay them," he said.
Mackey, 23, and his wife, Colleen, 22, also a med student, will begin their second year of medical studies in August. This summer they are living with her parents in Las Vegas, where he delivers newspapers.
Both already receive $5,000-a-year scholarships from the state of Oklahoma in a program that requires them to work in a small town or rural area after graduation. He said they hope to continue to get those grants as well as the $15,000 from Fort Cobb. Last year, he said, they had to borrow $6,000 to help meet expenses.
"We operated with no leeway. If any emergency had come up, we wouldn't have had anything," he said. The money from Fort Cobb "is just going to take the crunch off."
Mackey contacted city officials in Fort Cobb when an agreement they were working on with another medical student fell through. A group of local residents organized a meeting and invited him and his wife.
"Everybody was real responsive to Bruce. He's looking at Fort Cobb as a permanent place to live, not a stepping stone," said Randall Stockton, president of the Washita Valley Bank.
"He's a hometown boy and very brilliant and also, see, his wife is studying to be a doctor. So actually we get two for the price of one," said Dorothy Kusel, wife of a wheat farmer and a member of the city's governing board.
Mackey's tentative agreement with Fort Cobb officials requires him to practice in the town for at least three years. His agreement with the state requires him to practice in a rural community for four more years. He and his wife hope to open a clinic and remain in Fort Cobb long enough to raise a family and put the children through local schools.
When he gets to Fort Cobb, however, he will not have to worry about getting his medical prescriptions filled. His brothers Stan is the only pharmacist in town.