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Nevada's low health care ranking is an even bigger worry in rural areas

Health care in Nevada has a lot of issues. Too few doctors is a big one. Then there’s follow-up, or not, of patients after they leave a hospital.

Last fall, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Nevada had the highest percentage of one-star acute-care hospitals in the country.

Other surveys have ranked hospitals here higher — but the issue remains: Nevada has a long way to go before its health care system can be ranked among the best.

And that’s just in the cities. Imagine if you live in Nevada’s rural or frontier areas, where you might have to drive 100 miles to even see a doctor or nurse?

Dr. John Packham is the associate dean for statewide initiatives at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. He joined State of Nevada along with Republican Assemblyman Greg Koenig of Fallon, who is among the lawmakers looking for ways to address healthcare needs in rural communities.

"I have some hospitals that I work with that might have one or two patients today in their inpatient unit," Packham said. "So that low volume means that always struggle to maintain a certain service level staffing levels, quality and so forth. But they're, they're hammered by the fact that there's not much reimbursement at the end of the day."

Koenig is working on a few health care-related bills, including Assembly Bill 277, which would create a facility that's eligible for federal Medicaid and Medicare dollars.

"The bill that I sponsored is creating the rural emergency hospitals. And that made it out of work session unanimously. It was kind of a fun hearing after the work session, every single person on the committee wanted to add their name to that bill. So I had never seen that before. So it's going out with complete bipartisan support out of work session. … Talking to the people in Tonopah, especially if that law would have been in place in 2015, they would have been able to keep their clinic open. But because the rural emergency hospitals weren't specifically listed in NRS, they couldn't get reimbursed by Medicare, or they couldn't get Medicaid, and they couldn't apply to get reimbursed by Medicare. And without that financial backing, they just couldn't stay open. And so they had to close," he explained.

He said there's a clinic in Incline Village that's "ready to go," and when the bill passes, they can apply to be a rural emergency hospital.

Hear more in the full interview above.

Guests: Dr. John Packham, associate dean for statewide initiatives, University of Nevada, Reno Medical School; Greg Koenig, assemblyman, Nevada District 38

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.