BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala. (WKRG) — When it comes to achievements, it’s hard to top being named Surgeon General of the United States. But long before President Barack Obama picked Dr. Regina Benjamin to be the country’s leading physician in 2009, the Daphne native made national headlines for being an everyday hero in Readers Digest, for making house calls, taking out mortgages to build her bayou clinic after hurricanes, for maxing out her credit cards, and moonlighting to pay for medicine her patients couldn’t afford.
After serving as the country’s 18th Surgeon General, she has returned to Bayou La Batre and formed the Gulf States Health Policy Center, a non-profit organization that studies how health policy affects health outcomes in the entire Gulf Coast Region. While giving WKRG News 5’s Rose Ann Haven a tour of the facility, a homeless disabled shrimper showed up to the rear of the building asking for her to check his leg recovery after being run over while on his bicycle at a nearby hotel.
“She’s a wonderful doctor and a person too”, said Thomas Ace Nelson who calls Dr. Benjamin a friend. After examining Nelson and his prescription medications, the doctor, who is known for her hugs, embraced Nelson and encouraged him to quit smoking. He agreed to work on that while continuing to sit behind the building.
“She really loves and cares about this community, she’s a true SHERO”, said Shearie Archer, Executive Director of Ozanam Charitable Pharmacy in Mobile which provides medicine to patients at no charge.
“We’re doing more than we ever think that we could do, and so..we’ve been able to get grants, we’ve been able to expand our services”, said Archer. “She’s been able to help our little pharmacy publish in the John Hopkins Journal of medicine. She’s helped us to do a study, that has been presented at the National Press Club”, Archer added.
Through her non-profit, Dr. Benjamin is focusing on health, education, and financial wellness.
“Most of the health occurs outside the doctor’s office and the hospital. It occurs where we live, where we learn, where we work, where we play and where we pray”, said Benjamin.
She will continue to see some patients on the Bayou facility who are participating in research projects. There’s a kitchen to teach healthy food preparation. She also plans to develop an outdoor walking path when she can raise the money. She organizes classes to teach people how to make and manage money. “If you’re in a lot of debt, and you can’t pay your bills, you can’t feed your kids. It affects your health..it makes you stressed”, said Benjamin.
She claims to be no different than most women, but at the age of 63, when many are looking toward retirement, the good doctor is revving up.
“This is home, and so it’s important that we take care of our own, and that we show the rest of the world that we can be leaders too”, said Benjamin. “There’s too much to be done still.”
Dr. Benjamin still carries out Surgeon General duties, and travels internationally, serving on many boards. She’s had many big-money opportunities, but chooses to be on the Gulf Coast, desiring to be anywhere she can see the sunset on Mobile Bay.