Op/Ed – What happens in Washington, doesn’t stay in Washington

By Gilda Morales

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night with crushing chest pain and struggling to take a breath, as waves of nausea overcome you, sweating profusely as you look for your phone.  Your first instinct is to call 911 and ask the dispatcher to send an ambulance to your comfortable little home in a remote west Texas town.  You relax a bit after EMS arrives and takes charge, knowing that help awaits you no more than five minutes away, at a small, but well-staffed rural hospital.  By the time you get to the hospital, the nurses have already gathered all the necessary equipment, and notified x-ray and lab professionals as well as the on-call provider, of your arrival.

You are swarmed immediately by members of a team whose one goal is to keep you alive, and if necessary, transport you safely for advanced care as quickly as possible.  You thank God for the hospital and staff as you are carefully loaded onto a helicopter where all the necessary arrangements have been made for your arrival, where another set of well-trained professionals will take your life in their hands.

Most residents of Van Horn and the surrounding areas take the 24/7 availability of our rural hospital for granted.  They take comfort in knowing that whether their 1-year-old baby is running a fever at 2:00 a.m., or their 90-year-old grandmother wants to come home to die, there will be someone here to take care of them.  As idyllic as this sounds, the reality is that someone has to pay to keep the doors of our hospital open, and at this time, there is a real possibility that our safety net, the only healthcare available for more than 100 miles, may be pulled out from under us.

Unless you are a news junkie who watches C-Span all day, the events taking place in Congress seem far away and irrelevant, and unimportant.  However, unless you have been in a coma, you should at least be slightly aware of the movement to enact a new healthcare act that will have far-reaching effects for the nation, and especially to those living in rural areas.  Our local hospital, like many rural, critical access hospitals, depends heavily on Medicaid and Medicare to keep their doors open.

We cannot put our heads in the sand thinking that closure will never happen to us.  Since 2013, 15 rural hospitals have closed with many more struggling with constant cuts to Medicaid and Medicare by the federal and state governments.  The following is a list of Texas rural hospital closings, with 163 others keeping their fingers crossed that they can continue to stay open with the current slash mentality in Washington and Austin.

RURAL HOSPITAL CLOSURES

2013: Renaissance Hospital, Terrell, Kaufman County; Shelby Regional Center in Shelby County (later replaced with freestanding ER); Cozby-Germany Hospital, Grand Saline, Van Zandt County (reopened April 2015 as Texas General); Central Texas Hospital, Cameron, Milam County (reopened in November 2014 as Little River Healthcare)

2014: Lake Whitney Medical, Whitney, Hill County; Good Shepard Medical Center, Linden, Cass County; Cleveland Regional, Cleveland, Liberty County; East Texas Medical Center, Gilmer, Upshur County; East Texas Medical Center, Mount Vernon, Franklin County; East Texas Medical Center, Clarksville, Red River County

2015: North Texas Regional, Bridgeport, Wise County (acquired by Wise Health in 2013, closed inpatient services in January 2015 but continues as urgent care center); Hunt Regional, Commerce, Hunt County (inpatient hospital closed but continues as freestanding ER and outpatient facility); Bowie Memorial Hospital, Montague County

2016: Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, Wharton; Nix Community, Dilley, Frio County

Source: Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals (TORCH), Texas Department of State Health Services and State Office of Rural Health

For the last seven years, “Repeal Obamacare” has been the battle cry for Republicans during elections, and it worked.  However, as reality sets in, and they realize that they have the power to do just that, they must also examine their consciences and put human faces on whom their actions will affect…your family, your friends, your neighbors, and you.  One can argue the merits and faults of the Affordable Care Act, but seeing it cover my brother when he was critically ill, illustrated its value.  We cannot sit idly by as politicians, whose own healthcare will not be affected, make decisions about your hospital, the only lifeline for 120 miles, when time is a matter of life and death.  Call your state representatives as well as your congressmen and senators if you believe that funding for rural hospitals, Medicare and Medicaid, should be preserved.  It may be a call that saves your life.