Dr. Regina Benjamin

Dr. Regina Benjamin has made house calls to hurricane evacuees and rebuilt the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic not once but twice. She heard Monday that the MacArthur Foundation, based in Chicago, will give her effort a shot in the arm: $500,000 over five years. She’s one of 25 “Genius Grant ” recipients for 2008.

Dr. Benjamin’s clinic, on the Gulf Coast on Alabama, serves rural patients no matter their ability to pay. The clinic’s buiding was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and a new facility burned New Year’s Day 2006. Even so, the work of caring for 4,300 patients has continued.

Benjamin said that the health safety-nets for her patient population have split open. “People who were insured all their lives are losing their insurance, losing their jobs, or they just can’t afford it anymore,” she said.

The MacArthur grants may be spent in any way the recipient chooses. Benjamin said she may establish scholarships that would direct local students into math, science and health care professions.

“We don’t have enough kids from rural communities, and particularly minority kids, going into health careers,” she said.

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