Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Geography and lack of services, not coverage, main health issue for residents in small Calif. town

In Hayfork, Calif., the biggest obstacle for receiving health care is not a lack of health coverage but poverty and the availability of care, Daniela Hernandez writes for Kaiser Health News. The nearest clinic is in Mad River, about 30 miles down a mountain road. "We're down to the remnants of the medical personnel. It just came to the point where if I needed to deal with anything important I just felt much more comfortable going over to Mad River," Jeff Clarke, a 58-year-old with chronic Lyme disease, told Hernandez.

Hayfork is one of 170 and one of about 3,500 nationwide "medically underserved" communities. Medically underserved areas typically have "too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, pervasive poverty or a significant elderly population," Hernandez writes. According to the National Rural Health Association, almost 25 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but only 10 percent of physicians work there.

Dr. Early Mercill, 91, was Hayfork's only doctor for
more than 30 years. (Photo by Heidi de Marco/KHN).
For decades, Hayfork had a general practitioner and a pharmacist. Dr. Earl Mercill, who often made house calls in the middle of the night and provided care for free when patients couldn't afford it, retired years ago, and now doctors rotating from Weaverville once or twice per week run his clinic. When they're not available, physicians' assistants run it, and patients have to travel by helicopter to get to a hospital when an emergency occurs.

Traveling to the clinic is difficult because many people don't have a good car to drive or may even be unable to afford gas. "The median household income in Hayfork is about $34,000 per year, well below the statewide figure of about $60,000, according to the American Community Survey," Hernandez reports.

Specialists such as dentists and psychiatrists are very difficult to find in the Hayfork area. "In cities, you have places like outpatient programs for these types people to go every single day," said Julie Bussman, a psychology at the Mad River clinic. "It's a real hardship for people who are severely mentally ill to live out here because there's not a lot of resources." Bussman moved back to Minnesota in August, and now there isn't a psychologist for miles. (Read more)

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