By Beth Christian Broschart
The Parsons Advocate
DAVIS – Many health care providers gathered with Tucker County Commissioners Wednesday to talk about health care gaps in Tucker County. The meeting was held at Blackwater Falls State Park and moderated by Louise Reese, CEO at the West Virginia Primary Care Association.
Commissioner Diane Hinkle said Tucker is a rural county with less than 7,000 residents.
“But the fact that we have somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million visitors a year is a game changer for us,” Hinkle said. “I think I am stating the obvious but I think we need to factor that into every single challenge that is presented here.”
Sheila Marsh, director of Tucker County EMS, said the county has received two new ambulances in the last seven years through grants.
Larry Armbruster, president of the Tucker County Ambulance Authority, said their board was committed to having two ambulance crews in the county on staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“When we are able to generate sufficient funding, that will be our case,” Armbuster said. “To alleviate the paramedic shortage, we are committed, when we receive the necessary funding, to supplement the cost of some of our current staff who are EMTs to get them through a paramedic course and subsidize their education expense. I think these are two major pluses, if and when, funding becomes available.”
Parsons Fire Chief Kevin White said his department goes on 200 to 225 calls per year.
“We do assist when needed,” White said. “The biggest challenge I see in the future is the development of Corridor H. Davis will feel the impact real soon. Thomas and Canaan Valley will feel the impact much sooner than Parsons will. We have been making big strides in all the fire departments preparing ourselves for the opening of more and more of the Corridor.”
White said as Corridor H continues to open more of the roadway, he feels the 500,000 to 1 million visitors will only grow and tax all medical providers. He said between all four fire departments, there are probably 600 calls per year in the county.
“That may not sound like much, but when your members are strictly volunteers, there is a ton of calls there. You are asking people to come from their jobs and come from their homes. We have been able to meet most of the challenges especially with the County Commission getting a little more hotel/motel tax and up our budgets a little bit. We greatly appreciate that,” White said. “I think that is our biggest challenge – getting prepared for what is new coming to Tucker County. We can’t wait until it gets here to get prepared.”
Paul Wamsley, CEO of St. George Clinic, said the biggest challenge faced by his facility is what to do with mental health patients.
“We are trying to fill the gap and find where to transport them,” Wamsley said. “Currently, our protocol is to forward them to an emergency room that has an on-call psychologist. The next day, we see them back on the streets.
Wamsley said St. George Clinic currently offers the services they can and said they recently added dental and they are getting working to add podiatry.
“We are limited with the Federal Government with what we can do and what we can offer,” Wamsley said. “If you are a patient at St. George Clinic, you have access to 24 hour care. If it is after hours, you can call the call service and they will get you in touch with a provider on call.”
Wamsley said there have been conversations in the past about St. George Clinic offering a satellite clinic in Davis or Canaan to offset the tourist traffic.
“The only trouble we have is feasibility for one,” Wamsley said. “Staffing is the issue. What patients are you going to get? Will they be broken arms or broken legs? Will it be general sickness and how can we make that work?”
He said he looked at the numbers today and Dr. Rader and Preston-Taylor is actually penetrating close to 80 percent of the population of Thomas and Davis. We are picking up the other 19 to 20 percent. So when we go for an assessment we cannot justify the need. We are not able to count the tourists they have to use the numbers for permanent residents. We can count the traffic potentially, but it is not based on traffic.”
Vance Jackson, CEO of Davis Health System, said community health centers has done a very good job developing clinics that create good provider fits that attract patients which impacted our ability to operate from a family practice perspective.
“We are seeing 12 to 15, sometimes 20 patients per day in an urgent care environment,” Jackson said. “I think the thing we have been challenged to do is provide greater availability such as being available seven days a week. There it changes from a question of capability, but it is hard to staff it for seven days a week.”
Jackson said there is not enough volume to warrant putting lab and radiology services back into the facility and recover the cost.
“That is the question we have been trying to answer,” he said. “How do we get to the critical the critical mass and volume to say we can recruit providers. For us, it’s how to get to the critical mass and then staff the facility.”
Dr. Ed Rader said vacationers and the transient population need a phone access would be helpful to a great amount of people.
“Outside of the obvious emergency, if a physician could take a short history and direct them to a facility that would help,” Rader said.
Roxanne Tuesing, director of the Tucker County Senior Center, said they provide non-emergency medical transportation.
“We have 13 vans and some days, we are on the road from 3 a.m. until 11 p.m.,” she said. “We transport predominately out of Tucker County to other facilities. There is no funding provided to us from anyone in Tucker County. It is all self-pay by the people we transport or the State Medicaid Program. We also provide in-home care to upwards of 200 people and there is a lack of funding there.”
Tuesing said there needs to be greater coordinate between the hospitals when patients are released about medication management and meals to keep them from being readmitted.
“I get calls in the middle of the night from dispatch saying someone was discharged and needs a ride home,” Tuesing said. “I call out a driver and we go and get them rather than letting them sit there. Sometimes the hospital will call me and we go get our people.”
Dr. Susan Schmitt said there is an opportunity for communication with providers with the hospital when a patient is released or has a visit.
Dan Bucher, from Cortland Acres, said his facility provides inpatient and outpatient therapy services as well as care for long term patients.
“We host several specialty clinics on campus that alternate various days, including orthopedic surgeons and clinical psychology,” he said. “Another challenge is work force and housing for that work force.”
Robert Milvet Jr. of Mon General said Morgantown is not a patient sensitive city anymore.
“We have to do a better job by using telemedicine if we have providers who can rotate through clinics,” Milvet said. “We want to be in partnership with what the needs are in this community.”
Reese asked for ideas for next steps.
Robert Burns, executive director for the Tucker Community Foundation, said he ran into a grant for technical assistance for medical issues.
“This is technical assistance and would help provide a specialist to come in and help us identify more progress,” Burns said. “It’s a simple grant if you would like for me to pursue this.”
Reese said a survey could help drill down the specific needs, allowing there to be more focus on solutions.
“Until you are sure where the needs are, you cannot focus on solutions,” Reese said. “Rob Burns will serve as the point person for this project. He will set the next meeting of the group.”