Distance from small towns to doctors increase costs

In rural Whitman county, going to the doctor might mean saving for gas first



Hospitals in the Pullman area are working to increase accessibility to health care for those living in rural communities.

MADYSEN MCLAIN, Evergreen roots editor

The Pullman Regional Hospital and Whitman County Public Health offices are trying to reach out to local rural communities that lack access to health care and other public services.

“People in rural areas struggle to get any services, especially social ones,” said Troy Henderson, director of Whitman County’s Public Health Department.

Rural communities have a hard time accessing government housing services, medicine from pharmacies and special dietary items, he said. Often people must save money for gas to get where they need to go because even three to four gallons of gas can be a commodity.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program services have transitioned to providing many of their provisions online to be more accessible to those living in remote areas, Henderson said.

A coalition known as the Whitman County Health Network represents the Pullman and Colfax hospitals, Community Action Center and other health organizations to examine how to provide easier access to those in remote locations, he said.

This year, there is a public health nurse traveling to libraries in small towns in Washington like Garfield, Rosalia, Farmington and Endicott to administer flu shots to community members.

“The cost of this service is more expensive in rural areas,” he said. “The cost is higher to deliver 10 flu shots in a small town than 100 in a city like Seattle.”

Jeannie Eylar, an employee at PRH, said most patients at PRH come from the area, but they do serve people from south and north of Pullman.

“If young families need special care in Spokane, it’s a burden on families to have to travel and it strains their family dynamics,” Eylar said.

To counteract the troubles of patients traveling from rural areas, PRH has partnerships with health care groups and a staff of over 50 full-time doctors, she said.

PRH will have a breathing specialist on staff by the end of the year to decrease the need for patients to travel elsewhere for care, Eylar said.

The hospital also holds specialty clinics once or twice a month, she said. These clinics bring in specialists who do not have an office in the hospital such as an allergist.

As for WSU students traveling to the hospital to get health care, there seems to be no problem with students coming in because the public transport system has increased in recent years, Eylar said.

“In the end, we just want to make sure patients have access to care that they need,” she said.