WASHINGTON - An Alabama family doctor who twice resurrected her clinic in a rural Alabama fishing village after it was devastated by hurricanes will be nominated to be the new U.S. surgeon general, an administration official said on Monday.
President Barack Obama will announce his choice of Dr. Regina Benjamin at a Rose Garden ceremony at 11:40 a.m. EDT/1540 GMT, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Benjamin won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant in 2008 for her work founding the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic to serve a Gulf Coast fishing community of 2,500 people in 1990. It was devastated twice, by Hurricanes Georges in 1998 and Katrina in 2005, according to a biography by the MacArthur Foundation.
Despite scarce resources, Benjamin has painstakingly rebuilt her clinic after each disaster and set up networks to maintain contact with patients scattered across multiple evacuation sites, the foundation's biography reads.
She has established a family practice that allows her to treat all incoming patients, many of whom are uninsured, and frequently travels by pickup truck to care for the most isolated and immobile in her region.
The Obama administration is trying to usher a comprehensive healthcare reform package through Congress, with the aim of both cutting costs and covering more Americans. An estimated 46 million Americans lack health insurance coverage.
The surgeon general, who leads the uniformed Public Health Services Commissioned Corps, usually sets a broad tone for public health policy, by issuing advice on smoking, for example, or obesity and exercise.
Benjamin appears to have hands-on experience in some of the changes the Obama administration advocates.
Benjamin is skilled, as well, in translating research on preventive health measures into accessible, community-based interventions to decrease the disease burdens of her diverse patient base, which includes immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, who comprise a third of Bayou La Batre's population, the MacArthur Foundation said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Maggie Fox; Editing by Doina Chiacu)