Mom’s stroke reminds us of need for nearby medical care

My mom has endured a long slog since she suffered a stroke in early October and was life-flighted to Salt Lake City. She has been worked over pretty thoroughly by the University of Utah Hospital, with a first stop in intensive care, then on to rehab. But last week, Adrien told her various medical specialists that she’d had enough of their needling, and that she wanted, in no uncertain terms, to come home.

So on Saturday, my family brought her back to Moab, where she is resting and getting the best medicine of all: being in her house, with friends and family nearby. And real food. None of that pureed, bland, icky hospital stuff that you can’t choke down.

dick and adrien
Dick Wilson and Adrien Taylor catch up during the Sand Flats Recreation Area’s 50th anniversary celebration held earlier this year. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Mom’s medical care has been superb ever since her ordeal began. Nobody wants to go to the hospital, but when Adrien landed at Moab Regional by ambulance shortly after we discovered something was wrong Oct. 2, she – and we her family – were surrounded by familiar faces that worked fastidiously to get her the medical care she needed. That’s the thing about going to our local emergency room: if you live there long enough, the docs, nurses and EMS crews become familiar faces during some of our worst times. They are our first line of medical care and therapy.

Although Moab is 230 miles from Utah’s capital, the medical staff at MRH can view images and swap information with specialists upstate as if they were in the next room. Thanks to the advancement of technology, virtual reality serves us pretty well.

The old adage, “It’s a small world,” proved to be true over the last several weeks while we were going back and forth to be with mom while she was hospitalized. The second night mom was at the University of Utah Hospital her nurse was a young gal whose family has a home in Castle Valley. She and I have ridden hundreds of miles together on horseback; she put herself through nursing school while wrangling dudes. Wrangling Adrien for one night in that huge facility put my mind more at ease than any of the hours she worked in the saddle.

Saturday morning as I swallowed some eggs at the hotel breakfast bar, I saw other familiar faces who were in Salt Lake because one of their family members had landed at the U. I say this literally, because both of our mothers had been helicoptered there from Moab. The rural medical funnel took us on similar routes on different dates.

We often take medical care for granted. We don’t dwell on it much until we need it. And yet we leave so much to chance, especially living in rural areas. A guest editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune caught my eye earlier this month, written by a member of Intermountain Healthcare’s board of directors. James “Cid” Seidelman noted that rural hospitals across the nation are closing at an alarming rate, however none have closed in Utah. He explained why, while lamenting the damage to communities that can occur when rural hospitals shut down:

“Closures force rural patients to travel longer distances to access care, and longer distances mean life-threatening implications in an emergency,” Seidelman wrote. “The 2015 Kaiser Commission Report on Medicaid and the Uninsured noted that distance and travel time cause people to delay or forgo care, particularly among elderly and low-income people. Second, hospitals in rural communities are often the largest employer providing higher paying jobs and serving as an economic engine to the community. Third, hospital closures generate an exit of health practitioners creating gaps in both primary and specialty care.”

Seidelman noted rural hospitals’ challenges such as the reliance on volume to generate revenues, and an inability to achieve scale economies enjoyed by larger urban hospitals. He wrote that, “many rural communities face aging populations and pervasive poverty, forcing hospitals to provide more charity care and write-offs. Age and poverty also leads to greater reliance on Medicare and Medicaid, putting more financial pressure on hospitals because those programs reimburse hospitals at below market rates.”

I know very little about the medical business. But I’m certain that the issues Seidelman cites are challenges that we face as a community. Thriving business at the Moab Free Health Clinic is proof that economics and insurance (or lack thereof), nag at the health of our community. But the fact that rural hospitals in Utah are staying open means that our local health professionals are grappling pretty well with daunting national challenges.

I’m grateful that our town has a relatively new hospital and nursing home, and a free clinic to serve the many people who may not otherwise see a doctor. I’m grateful for our community’s home health providers, and for hospice when the end is near. And I’m grateful that my mom is back in Moab getting what is probably the best medicine of all: being home, surrounded by family, friends and familiar surroundings.