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  • Writer's pictureTanya Robinson

Finding Healthcare in the High Country: It’s High Time We Get the Change We Need.

Imagine getting a call from your child’s school requesting that you come pick them up because they are sick. Now, the school has a clinic connected through the local Health Department, but your child can’t go there. So, they advise that you have to take your child to the urgent care facility next to the local hospital… I experienced this just a short while ago with my child.

If you keep up with the state of healthcare in Ashe County, North Carolina, you know that the Health Department building has been closed since Christmas of 2022 due to frozen pipes that burst and exposed massive asbestos problems in the building. In just a few weeks, it will have been a year that it’s been closed.

Many people here rely on the Health Department as their primary care facility because they can afford nothing else.

In Ashe County, 32% of children are living in poverty (2017) and 20% of the county is uninsured (2017) according to the State of the County Health Report published in 2019.

Many of us were using the Health Department as a source of healthcare because of their sliding fee scale to see patients. But, I digress from reality.

The day I got the call from my son’s school, I took him to the urgent care facility to be seen and COVID tested. Once I got there, I was informed that they do not provide COVID testing any longer, but I could fill out the paperwork for him to be seen. I did this and provided his insurance information... After waiting an hour in the waiting room, I was called to the front and told that he could not be seen unless I paid a $94 bill from 2018 when he was seen there with no insurance. I was floored. I simply could not believe this was the case and explained that the Health Department told me he was guaranteed to be seen, per an agreement they had made with the urgent care. They denied any type of agreement with the Health Department and would not be seeing him.

Worried about my sick child, I left and made the call to a pediatrician in Boone, more than 40 minutes away, to see if they could possibly see him. Thankfully they made the time to see him. As it turns out, he was COVID-positive as were myself and my husband.

This brings me to my next point, I had to drive 40+ minutes just to get the most basic care for my son (a COVID test). Part of the reason I had to drive so far is that many doctors do not accept Medicaid in Ashe County, and the ones that do are overwhelmed and not taking any new patients.

Furthermore, there is a lack of specialists for healthcare in Ashe. This leaves Ashe County residents having to travel 40+ minutes away simply to see a specialist that they were referred to, and this is true whether or not you are insured.

There simply aren’t specialists in Ashe County. The local hospital commonly transfers people out for things or refers them to locations in neighboring counties for healthcare.

Healthcare is essential to any town or locality, but what do you do when it is a failing system without regard to who is harmed by this? What are you to do for healthcare when there aren’t enough physicians or facilities to handle the patients? What does the future look like with an increase in retirees and transplants calling Ashe County Home when there is already a deficit of doctors and healthcare facilities for the current population? How do we plan to care for these newcomers, especially as they age?

We need to start planning for the future and not just the here and now. We need elected leaders that will think proactively not reactively.

So let’s make healthcare a top priority when the time comes to vote. Understand that our elected leaders absolutely have the power to bring change, and it is high time we get the change we need!

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