By Angel Romero Kiester
(Editor's note: Angel is current our Rural Health Care Intern)
Last week, I was blessed to have spent a week in Alaska to celebrate a wedding. I know, Alaska in December. It was beautiful, and even though the temp read -37, it seemed much warmer. On my trip I sparked up conversation with the people I encountered. They would start with "Where are you from?" and "What is it that you do?" Of course, I explained what we at the Center do. Not surprisingly at all, I was taken in quite well. The heavily rural areas of Alaska are dealing with the same rural issues we do here in Nebraska.
It was easy to engage them because of all we had in common as rural residents, and really made me feel proud of what we are doing here at the Center. We are not alone in our struggles, and our work stretches beyond the boarders of Nebraska.
Alaska's rural population has it pretty tough due to the geography and climate, which makes access to several things difficult. Similar to us in Nebraska, access to health care is a big problem. Alaska has territory barriers that determine where you can go for medical care. If you are on one side of the line, you go to Fairbanks, and the other you go to Anchorage. In a state that is quite large this can be a major issue.
For instance, one of the couples I met told me how they were sight-seeing thirty minutes from their town, but crossed the line for care territory. She fell and needed medical attention, and had to wait two hours for a transport to the hospital. When her husband needed hip surgery later, they will have to go back to his state of Kentucky because of the long wait in the two hospitals equipped to preform it in Alaska. "Even though we have insurance, the access to medical care is a problem we all struggle with here." said Sharon Wilson of North Pole Alaska. "In the more rural areas, I can't even imagine what they have to go though."
Like Sharon and her husband Bobby, most of the people I talked to were unaware of the good that rural Americans can get out of health care reform. But once they learn of the benefits, they are quick to accept reform.
In a year, after all the rumors that have been debunked, the benefits of health care reform will be more well known. So, in light of all the negative media that continues to bombard us, we all must continue to use the power of our collective voices. I tried to do my part to spread the good word and inform those I met in Alaska. Hopefully they will do the same, and you will too.