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Consumer Stories

Dell Giles; Rockdale, Texas

Tamara Hamilton; Mancos, Colorado

Tara Blackburn; Hoopa, California

Dell Giles lives in Rockdale, Texas—which has a population of around 6,000 people— and they are facing some big health care problems. Her town’s one and only hospital has closed, just over a year ago.

According to Dell, the hospital essentially closed overnight due to bankruptcy. Any other urgent or emergency services are over 50 miles away.

A clinic has opened up since, which includes pediatric services, that has filled the community’s needs for check-ups and other appointments. It has even been able to provide testing for COVID-19.

However, the loss of the hospital has left a void in care for the community. Members of the community are worried that if someone were to fall ill enough to need hospitalization, they would have to receive care very far from their home and loved ones. In addition, many members of the community have been unable to get access to their medical records, and they don’t know who to turn to get their information.

“Mostly, it’s just the fact that if there’s an emergency, people are scared. What am I going to do? How long is it going to take me to get help?”

Tamara Hamilton lives in Mancos, Colorado, a town of around a thousand people. When her 1-year-old grandson, Tucker, recently fell ill, there were only two hospitals nearby as options.

The first, closer hospital, Tamara knew she had to avoid. Not only does the hospital have a horrible reputation in the community, but Tamara’s own experiences there have been enough for her. 15 years ago, she took her son there and they diagnosed him with strep throat. Knowing something else was wrong, Tamara took the extra 7-hour drive to a children’s hospital in Denver where he was diagnosed with and treated for cancer.

Based on this previous, terrible experience, when Tucker fell ill this past March, Tamara and Tucker’s mom Lillian decided to take him to the other hospital nearby. Tucker’s pediatrician had diagnosed him with COVID-19 via a telehealth appointment and told them to seek treatment at the hospital, but the hospital refused to listen to the pediatrician’s advice. Tamara and her daughter felt trapped. With Tucker extremely dehydrated and with low oxygen levels, it would be risky to take the 7-hour trip to Denver. Lillian had to threaten the hospital that she would take him to Denver for the hospital to give him oxygen. Fortunately, the hospital agreed to help, and Tucker recovered.

Tamara faces other issues living in a rural area. In her corner of Colorado, insurance premiums are higher than anywhere else in the state. Every doctor in the county is on the same network, so there is no competition. Medical appointments are extremely backlogged in her area, and often can only be booked four months out. In frustration, Tamara has even told a receptionist trying to book her for appointment not to bother because “that far from now, I’ll either be better, or I’ll be dead.”

This lack of community providers  means that a lot of people only seek health care from the emergency room, which is expensive, and the training that ER workers receive doesn’t always meet the community’s needs. Tamara believes this is part of the reason it was difficult to get care for Tucker.

Tara Blackburn lives on a Native American reservation in California. Her community has been able to regulate itself very well during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one has refused to wear a mask, and they’ve only had one case so far with no deaths.

Despite that, Tara has had health concerns that her rural community cannot address. Although there is a health clinic and a dental clinic nearby, they are unable to provide all of the care the community needs. Two years ago, two abscesses in Tara’s mouth burst. The dental clinic was not set up to meet Tara’s needs, but after she spent several hours waiting in pain, they were able to finally see her. They couldn’t give her the root canals she needed, but they gave her necessary antibiotics to recover.

The community also has local ambulance services, but for issues that can’t be treated at the nearby clinics, people have to be taken by helicopter as far as 100 miles to a hospital in Redding or take a gnarly mountain road 65 miles to Eureka.

Tara has worried about what would happen to her in an emergency. If she had a fall, the local clinic would probably be enough, but what if she had a stroke?

The community is also facing issues of smoke inhalation. Fire season is underway in California, and for people who have lived in the community a number of years, the persistent seasonal smoke has caused them to be at greater risk of pneumonia or, now, COVID-19.

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