Rural health care can be a challenge.
In fact, during the 2016 presidential race, both major party candidates promised to expand funding for community health initiatives.
With that in mind, and in order to meet the needs in Delaware county and northeast Oklahoma, officials with the Community Health Center of Northeast Oklahoma, Inc., have established a satellite clinic on the edge of Grove.
The primary care health center, The Grove Community Health Center, is located at 10405 North Highway 59, near Sail Boat Bridge.
This is the organization's second location. The first, the main clinic, is the Route 66 Health Clinic in Afton.
Lee Hilliard, spokesperson for the organization, said approximately 62 million people – nearly one in five Americans – live in rural communities throughout the United States.
"Federally Qualified Health Centers, like CHCNEO, and other health providers in rural areas are working with their local communities to design health delivery systems designed specifically for the population they are serving," Hilliard said. "In many cases they may be the only source of primary care in a community."
Dr. William Durick, an internal medicine physician with a subspecialty in geriatrics, is leading the team in Grove.
A physician in northeast Oklahoma for more than 50 years, Durick has a doctorate in pharmaceutical medicine from the University of South Dakota and a doctorate of medicine from the University of Kansas. He completed his residency at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“I am excited about the opportunity to bring my years of experience helping older folks, like myself, get the most from modern health care” said Durick. “Our hope is that people will like our old fashioned patient centered approach to medical care, and will make us a part of their overall health program.”
He will be joined by Shandi Guertin, LPN, a native of northeast Oklahoma who will provide nursing care for the clinic’s patients.
The clinic’s receptionist Davene Kahler is a familiar face, having worked for many years at INTEGRIS Grove Hospital and Encompass Home Health.
Patrick Peer, CEO for CHCNEO, said he is pleased Durick is helping to open the clinic in Grove.
"He likes rural health care and is accustomed to rural areas," Peer said.
Former Sen. Rick Littlefield said the clinic's opening in Grove is an "absolute windfall" for the area. He has been part of the CHCNEO since its inception.
He said the clinic will serve a client or customer base that may have struggled with going to Afton, but in need of care due to being without insurance or due to under insurance issues.
Littlefield said a clinic like this provides a service, and helps reduce the number of emergency room visits at hospitals for patients seeking treatment for colds and the flu.
"This is just another option, another alternative and another access point for people who don't have the typical means [to seek health care because] of insurance," Littlefield said. "I think the need in our area has grown.
"This is a great location. I think it's going to surprise us."
As a community based, not for profit option for health care, the clinic will work in partnership with INTEGRIS Grove Hospital for speciality and inpatient care.
Tim Bowen, president of INTEGRIS Grove Hospital, said he has worked with clinics similar to the Grove facility. He believes the clinic will bring value to the INTEGRIS system, because it gives local patients additional health care options.
In December, the partnership with the INTEGRIS system kicked into full swing when clinic staff transferred their first patient to the hospital as a direct admit.
Peer said opening the Grove facility has been in the back of his mind for several years.
When the location on north 59 Highway became available, he began pursuing the project. He developed it in partnership with Janet Mendez, the organization's chief operating officer.
Rep. Ben Loring (D-Miami) said clinics such as this help address health care options for the working poor and more.
"This is great for the community," Loring said. "I'm just really excited about all of the potential here."
The facility is provided funding through a three-year renewable federal grant. The services offered are available based upon a person's ability to pay. Insurance is accepted, as well as Medicare and Sooner Care.
Farmers, ranchers may benefit from the ACA
Living in a rural area has made many people very aware of the fact that farming and ranching can mean making tough choices every day.
Many of the challenges and risks can seem difficult or overwhelming at times. One of the biggest challenges for many, especially those just getting started, had been finding affordable, reliable health insurance coverage for themselves and their families.
Prior to Affordable Care Act (ACA), many rural families had a hard time finding affordable insurance coverage, paying an average of nearly half of their costs out of their own pockets. Statistics indicate that as many as one in five farmers is in debt because of medical bills.
There is a new video on YouTube featuring a farmer/rancher in Golden City Missouri, just northeast of Joplin, who like many in agriculture, had no insurance prior to the ACA and had to refinance his farm to pay medical bills.
Fortunately for him, he was able to find coverage he could afford and as his health continues to be a challenge, he has insurance now to cushion the blow. His video called “Saving my health and my farm” is viewable at https://youtu.be/XQmvj6nmS_g or just do a search for that title.
Today nearly 1.3 million people living in rural America are signed up for health coverage through the Marketplace.
Many people may not know that the ACA also invests significantly in addressing the underlying challenges to staying healthy in rural America. While one in five Americans lives in a rural community, just 10 percent of doctors practice there.
That is why the ACA has more than doubled the size of the National Health Service Corps, which, among other things, offers scholarships and loan repayment to health practitioners in return for practicing in rural communities.
It also expanded services at community health centers, such as Community Health Center of Northeast Oklahoma, Inc. in Afton and Grove, which provide access to primary and preventive care for 7.5 million rural Americans.
Farming and ranching can be a risky business. It requires hard work but, for many, accessing affordable insurance in rural areas is now easier than ever before.
Open Enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace is open until January 31. Sign up before then–because no one should go without health care because of where they live, or be forced to leave the life they love to get the coverage they need.
For free in-person local assistance with the healthcare Marketplace, persons interested may contact Lee Hilliard, Outreach and Enrollment Specialist for the Community Health Center of Northeast Oklahoma, Inc., at 918-219-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hilliard is scheduled to be at the Miami office of Oklahoma Works every Thursday, Grove Chamber Office every Wednesday, Craig General Hospital every Tuesday and the Route 66 Health Clinic in Afton Monday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the Marketplace enrollment period (excluding holidays). Participants are encouraged to call ahead for an appointment and to get details of what information is needed during the meeting.
If You Go
The new clinic in Grove is in-network for a variety of health insurance plans including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United Health Care, Health Choice, Tri-Care, SoonerCare, Insure Oklahoma and Medicare and accepts most health insurance.
For those patients who need help enrolling in the Marketplace, Insure Oklahoma, SoonerCare, etc., Lee Hilliard, the center’s Outreach and Enrollment Specialist, will be available to assist patients and their families with enrollment and re-enrollment.
The health center collaborates with other medical services in the Grand Lake area to give the patient the most optimal experience.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment, persons interested may call 918-257-8029.