By Kenneth Corn
It’s a new year! This is the time of the year we all make the “New Year’s” resolutions that always includes trying to live a healthier life. While it’s always a good opportunity to reset the fitness and health clock, the beginning of the new year is also an opportune time to examine how we can improve healthcare access in our state.
I know first-hand the need for healthcare access. I lost both my parents at a relatively young age. My father was 68 and my mother was 59 when they passed at an age way too young. I am convinced that had they had the access to the same level of healthcare that I have been blessed to have had from my career that my parents would have lived much longer, healthier and happier lives. More importantly my fellow siblings and I may still have had our mom and dad around to help ring in 2024.
It has been my mission to improve healthcare for people of my beloved Oklahoma! My proudest legislative achievement in the Oklahoma Legislature was getting 100 percent healthcare coverage for Oklahoma Education personnel. Now, as the State Director of USDA Rural Development, I am excited about the possibilities that President Biden’s Administration is providing through the Telemedicine Grant Program. Through this vital program I have a small part I get to play in the partnership that will kick open the doors to quality, accessible healthcare in rural parts of our great state.
Just this last month, I announced a grant to the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center to provide the technology that will allow a patient having a stroke to have access to a neurologist immediately at 23 different rural hospitals across the state. Why this is important is that patients seeking care at these rural hospitals will now have access to the same expert medical treatment immediately just like the patients in Oklahoma City or Tulsa would. Having this access for towns like Coalgate or Hobart means that there are better outcomes for the patient and reduces the cost for the patient by eliminating unnecessary travel and hospital transfers.
USDA Rural Development also recently announced a grant that is making access to orthopedic care in some rural communities possible by providing telemedicine capabilities that allows the surgeon in Oklahoma City to do most of the preparation needed for treatment without the patient making long and sometimes nerve-racking drives to the metro. Dr. Paul Jacob’s use of the grant award at the Oklahoma Joint Reconstruction Institute in Oklahoma City will allow access to badly need specialty care to patients in the Oklahoma panhandle who cannot afford the time away from the agriculture activities, businesses and families. This opens the door to allow people to continue to live in rural communities instead of abandoning their way of life that they value.
I will also be announcing two more grants totaling over $1.5 million, which will be awarded to McAlester Regional Hospital and Coal County Hospital to expand service of specialty care to nine Southeast Oklahoma counties. These services will range from providing direct care from a provider, nursing care, behavioral healthcare and social services where needed. The efforts of these healthcare systems through the partnership with USDA Rural Development will grant greater access to care where it has been lacking for decades.
I am also extremely excited about the efforts being made by the citizens in Tillman County to re-open their local hospital, so that the healthcare desert no longer exists and provides emergency and preventive care for the people who call that county home. The team effort of the local citizens led by Representative Trey Caldwell, Congressman Tom Cole and staff, Association of South Central Oklahoma Governments, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, Comanche Memorial and the Oklahoma Legislature’s wise use of the President Biden’s American Recovery Act funding with the assistance of the staff of USDA Rural Development here in Oklahoma has made the possibility of opening this hospital go from a mere dream to possibly a real reality.
So, as we start the new year, lets resolve to make what President Biden says that your zip code shouldn’t determine your access to care a reality. For the work of revitalizing Oklahoma’s rural communities renews and our cause for quality access continues with the mission of USDA Rural Development as your partner to grow rural Oklahoma!