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rural health

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

It’s hard to get basic health care like shots and x-rays in rural Oklahoma. The federal government considers all but one of the state’s 77 counties to have a primary care shortage. The problem is driving a legislative effort to allow highly educated nurses to fill that gap — but doctors and nurse practitioners are butting heads on who is qualified to help.

Lindsi Walker sits behind a glossy wooden desk at Cordell Memorial, a hospital on Oklahoma’s western plains. She’s surrounded by pictures of her family — a stethoscope hangs around her neck.

Cuts announced at the state health department suggest leaner services for years to come.
Oklahoma Watch

At community health centers across Oklahoma, new patients typically have to wait more than two months for a dentist appointment. Those waits may get even longer.

And throughout swaths of rural Oklahoma, nonprofits that provide child-abuse prevention services for hundreds of families have halted their programs. Others are looking for alternative funding sources to stay afloat.

 

Moving to a rural Oklahoma town can be hard selling point for the state’s tribes, especially for high-demand, skilled professions like doctors and chefs.

The Journal Record newspaper released a special issue this week, Building Bridges, that looks at the tribal impact on Oklahoma’s economy. As part of the issue, reporter Catherine Sweeny noted that tribal healthcare facilities have to compete with metropolitan areas to attract doctors.

Leah Thompson Carter, of Bartlesville, lost her son to a prescription drug overdose and is afraid she will lose another. Here, she speaks at the Suicide Awareness Summit in Bartlesville in September.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

For many Oklahomans, the tug of war between drug addiction and the wait time for treatment can be a one-sided competition: The power of addiction often wins.

Those who lack insurance or cannot pay out of pocket often find themselves on a long waiting list that prioritizes the most severe drug addiction cases. If the person isn’t pregnant or injecting drugs, he or she will not receive state-funded treatment or will be forced to wait, sometimes weeks, until a spot opens up.

Carol Barnes, of Ponca City, says that one of her greatest fears was losing her vehicle, cutting off her only access to mental health treatment.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

There was a time in Carol Barnes’ life when the prospect of losing her car would have worsened her already severe anxiety and depression.

When she was struggling with her disorders during the mid-2000s, Barnes said, losing her only means of transportation would have meant losing access to her mental health providers.

Robinson Tolbert was honored in 2014 by the University of Oklahoma’s Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work Hall of Fame for her work in rural areas,
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

From its vast, open ranges in the northwest to its lush, rolling hills in the southeast corner, rural Oklahoma still evokes an idyllic image.

The archetype of quiet, small towns with a strong sense of community – where friendliness is abundant and “big city” stresses are few – often marks the popular imagery used to represent the state and its values.

But for many of those who live in Oklahoma’s rural areas, the reality does not match the trouble-free imagery.

Mike and Mary Ann Johnson, and her daughter Deanie  Neugebauer, bought this home in Frederick, Oklahoma in the summer of 2015.
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

 

Mary Ann Johnson and her husband bought a spacious 1970s-era ranch home in Frederick last summer. The remodeled kitchen is wide and open with a brand-new island juxtaposed by a retro cooking stove.

The couple grew up in Frederick, and they still have lots of friends and family here. It’s quiet and peaceful and they love the slow pace of life after years of living in Oklahoma City. It was an easy decision to buy the house and retire in this small, southwestern Oklahoma town.

But now, Johnson is worried about her daughter, Deanie.

Okeene Municipal Hospital CEO Shelly Duncan on March 30, 2016.
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

 

Shelly Dunham walks through the halls of Okeene Municipal Hospital in northwest Oklahoma on a slow Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s not a busy place. We don’t have a lot of patients, but we’re the safety net for patients,” Dunham said.

Dunham is the CEO of this 17-bed hospital that offers the basics in care - like an emergency room, a laboratory, therapy, X-rays, and  CT scans.

“We have to be open to take care of people who come in with emergencies and get them to higher levels of care when they need that,” Dunham said.