Medical services in rural Nevada face many challenges, from funding to personnel to simple geography
Northern Nye County has been plagued with these problems, and they're not exactly getting better.
Ambulance services have been sporadic around Tonopah since the main hospital closed more than two years.
Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman has been working for two years to solve the county's healthcare problems with little success.
The ambulance problem is one of staffing she told KNPR's State of Nevada.
"Basically, we have used up and exhausted most of the people who were willing to step up, take the training and become volunteers to provide that service," she said.
When the hospital was open, volunteer on-call shifts lasted just a few hours; with the hospital gone, shifts can last hours. People are exhausted and they don't want to volunteer.
Beyond that, the stipend they receive for volunteering is a small portion of what insurance pays for, and if the patient has Medicare or Medicaid, the portion is less than $200.
Wichman said some people are blaming the county for the lack of services -- but the county is not required to provide emergency medical services. She says it is a big misunderstanding.
"The individuals who are constantly pointing their fingers saying, 'The county isn't providing us with this' are the same individuals who believe that they're paying on their tax bills for emergency services -- but they're not," she said
She said a temporary solution to the ambulance problem was to bring in a service from Reno, but that contract is over. Neither the county nor the town of Tonopah can afford to make it a permanent solution.
"None of us have the money, the resources, to pay for that contract on an extended basis," she said.
The town of Tonopah is currently working on getting the money to pay for extending the contract, Wichman said.
The overall problem of healthcare in her county is something Wichman has been working for months to solve, but so far, solutions have been elusive.
"A lot of good ideas have been brought to the table, but none of them end up panning out," she said.
She has reached out to the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, the Bureau of Land Management & other agencies that are hosted by Nye County, but none are willing to partner with the county for a solution.
"Even though I have the sympathy from Nye County all the way to Washington, D.C. -- everybody sympathizes with the problem -- the proof is in the pudding, and there is no money coming through," she said.
Now, Wichman is lobbying the Nevada Department of Transportation to go so far as to install signs warning motorists that medical coverage on area roads is scant.
She said the road sign project has a two-fold mission. Signs would let travelers know that they could be waiting hours for help if they're in an accident or need emergency medical services.
"If they're aware of what they're facing, they're making the decision informed," she said.
Second, such signs would make sure NDOT understands that the two-lane roads around the county are part of the problem.
The larger fix for the rural healthcare problem in the state is likely to come from the Legislature. Wichman said she has worked with several lawmakers on legislation she hopes is addressed in the next session.
Lorinda Wichman, Nye County Commissioner (Dist. 1)
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