Since 2010, Texas has seen more rural hospitals close than has any other state, leaving huge gaps in health care. Prairie View A&M University and Waller County have been confronted with this dilemma as the county’s population continues to grow.

Last summer, Dr. Mark Tschaepe, an associate professor of philosophy at PVAMU, was conducting research about HIV testing and treatment accessibility in Waller County and became interested in a wider scope of issues concerning health care in the area.

He discovered that Waller County was what he calls a “medical desert” or health professional shortage area (HPSA).

“Talking with people in the area, I was told by many that there used to be hospitals in Waller County: one on campus and one in Hempstead,” he said.

The original Prairie View hospital, which was opened in the early 1900s, underwent various changes through the years before eventually being demolished. Waller County Hospital opened in Hempstead in 1951 and from the beginning suffered from a lack of physicians, economic strife and political battles. It closed in 1985.

With a grant from the Office of Research at PVAMU, Christian Farley is assisting Tschaepe in collecting data from Waller County residents about health care needs in the area.

“Thus far, we have found that around half of the residents we have surveyed believe that primary health care is largely unavailable in the area, and they indicate a lack of proximity and transportation as an issue,” Tschaepe said.

Additionally, research shows that residents have difficulty securing local specialist care, and language barriers can also be an obstacle to care. The team continues to conduct surveys and plans on extending research in the county to include specific issues of mental health in the fall.

From Tschaepe’s perspective, the university and county should work together to address health care issues in the area. “Right now, I am assembling a Waller County Health Care Ethics Network on Prairie View’s campus,” he said.

Over 30 people are involved, including faculty, students, administrators, outside healthcare consultants and community members. The first meeting will be in September, and the purpose will be to begin discussing specific problems regarding healthcare in the county.