Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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September 25, 2010

Hospital ailments require prescription written at the employment window

BLUEFIELD — Like many hospitals, the one in Tazewell is facing economic pressure. Within the past two years, St. Luke’s has been closed and the facility is reopened with a new clientele serving different needs. Bluefield Regional Medical Center has for all practical purposes been sold within the past few days and the new owners have plans to provide patients with good service. We all hope that works as planned.

A spokesperson for the Carilion operation, Eric Earnhart, said there are no plans to close the Tazewell facility and another sentence in the story included the phrase “will not be closing any time soon” so the community is on notice that nothing is guaranteed.

Hospital corporations, like any business have to take in at least one more dollar than is paid out and we have noticed in the not so distant past that has not been the case for several businesses in Four Seasons Country.

I have been “fortunate” to have been part of the problem. From 1962, when I broke my arm at a Cub Scout meeting, until 2009 when I had by-pass surgery, there was a 47-year span I never spent a night in a hospital. That won’t help the economy much.

Dentists don’t survive when everyone has perfect teeth and doctors don’t stay in business unless people get sick. It may sound foolish but there it is.

The real truth (in part) is that in our part of the country personal resources are dwindling. When Dr. Roy R. Raub set my arm at the Bluefield Sanitarium on Ramsey Street, the bill was paid by the United Mine Workers of America. For thousands of patients over the past 50 years or so, the UMWA card has been the blessing that provided care. The closest alternative would be the U.S. veterans benefits.

As the older mining generation has begun passing away the change is obvious. New jobs, the part-time variety with some paying as little as minimum wage often for workers on the jobsite less than 30 hours weekly, have forced many individuals and families to just stop seeking medical care.

Not many days ago, I was making my monthly visit to the local pharmacy because I have a couple of pills I take daily so that my repaired heart will keep beating in its regular rhythm.

An elderly (somebody my own age) lady at the counter ahead of me had to return a couple of prescriptions because she could not afford to buy them both and pay her monthly utility bills. It was heartbreaking.

After the lady left, the pharmacist said that type of thing happens more often than we might suspect.

So, if an individual will not go to the doctor because of the fee, it is very easy to see why the hospitals are not filled. As I tell my students in school, education or employment or anything else always ultimately revolves around money. Those of us with health cards and a regular paycheck might not always see the rough edges of life that many around us live through every day.

I can tell you that a great many of the school children on both sides of the state line qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Many of them eat the majority of their meals at school.

Of course, that is not confined to just Four Seasons Country. Do you think it is a coincidence that national companies like  Blockbuster are filing for bankruptcy or that Movie Gallery has already gone out of business? More and more, people cannot afford life’s luxuries — they are simply trying to survive.

I sympathize with the hospital workers in Tazewell.

I know many of them personally and they do a fine job.

Since my surgery, I have spent quite a bit of time out there getting blood work done and doing business with the radiology department. It’s a good operation.

So, if there is one major concern in the upcoming elections, it is certainly the creation of new jobs and the protection of the ones we already have. I mean “good” jobs — not the $8 per hour kind that borders on poverty wage — but employment that offers enough money to buy homes and cars. Yes, my friends, we need coal and the jobs the industry offers. Those UMWA cards and company benefits were worth their weight in gold and they still are. Other industries with good benefits make society enjoyable, as well.

The best prescription for our local hospitals must first be written in Washington, Charleston, and Richmond.

Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.

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