Modern Healthcare sought to map the parts of the U.S. with the poorest access to healthcare and highest levels of social vulnerability. With support from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Modern Healthcare used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social vulnerability index, along with Health Resources and Services Administration access scores, to identify areas with common problems but unique circumstances, including Evangeline Parish, Louisiana, the Bronx, New York, and Navajo County, Arizona.
Mamou, Louisiana, is the self-proclaimed Cajun Music Capital of the World. Every January, locals begin preparing for their largest celebration of the year: Mardi Gras. “Laissez les bons temps rouler"—let the good times roll—is painted on the side of the town’s beloved bar, Fred’s Lounge. Weathered storefront windows along the main road are festooned with purple and gold decorations.
The rural community, a collection of swamplands and prairies, rice and sugarcane fields, has been federally designated as medically underserved since 1978. Its 3,000 residents are 65% white, 27% Black, 4% Latino and the remainder mostly identify as multiracial.
There is deep inequality here, forged by centuries of racial violence and a steady population decline since 2000, which has perpetuated cycles of poverty and limited economic opportunities. Many residents live far from grocery stores and lack access to the internet and reliable transportation, said Karen Wyble, vice president of community affairs at Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center, which is an hour’s drive from Mamou.
The local economy revolves around Old Highway 13, which runs south toward the Gulf of Mexico. In town, there are no sidewalks. Businesses such as a pharmacy, food market, liquor store and barbecue joint operate drive-thrus, which underscores how reliant residents are on their automobiles.
On the edge of town in January, a Troy-Bilt lawn mower sat parked outside Savoy Medical Center between a Kia Telluride and an Acura TL. Residents of the nearby senior housing complex pilot wheelchairs over roads and through grassy lots. Ricky Peters is among them.