Sandral Hullett, M.D., doesn't look like a potentate. But in Eutaw, Ala., a town of 2,500 people about 80 miles southwest of Birmingham, the 53-year-old Hullett is the healthcare equivalent of Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor.
Hullett, the chief of staff and a board member of 20-bed Greene County Hospital, also delivers most babies there, treats most emergency-room patients, serves as medical director for the adjoining 72-bed county nursing home and holds that same post with Family Healthcare of Alabama, a federally qualified community health center serving nearly 20 counties in rural western Alabama.
Hullett also serves on the board of the University of Alabama and on the practicing physician advisory committee of HCFA. She's a member of the Institute of Medicine.
The area she serves is home to five of the poorest counties in America, according to 1990 census figures. Annual per-capita income averages between $8,000 and $12,000, with more than 20% unemployment during the nation's greatest economic boom. Nearly 40% of area patients are uninsured.
"The school meal served on Friday afternoons may be the last full meal some kids will see until Monday morning," Hullett says.
Perhaps because of all its flaws, Eutaw is home to this "1960s Birmingham child" and social activist.
Healthcare leaders say that Hullett has made a difference in the lives of western Alabama residents.
Robert Coker Jr., administrator of Greene County Hospital, says Hullett has become an integral part of the community. He says area residents seem to know when Hullett is out of town or on vacation, because there is a lull until she returns.
"They want to be seen by her," he says. "They start trickling back (to the hospital) when she comes back."
Although several key health indicators in the area--teen pregnancies, infant mortality rates and immunization rates--have improved dramatically since she arrived in 1979 as a National Health Service Corps physician, Hullett says many challenges remain.
"I cannot get American doctors to work here," she says, explaining that most of the physicians she's recruited have been from India or Pakistan and a few are from Ghana and Sudan.