Op - Ed, Opinion

We could do better on health care

By Cheryl Mitchell

Editor’s note: Cheryl Mitchell is president of Treleven, a retreat and learning program located on her family’s sheep farm in Addison County. She does freelance consulting on issues related to children, families, social policy and farm to community work. She can be reached at cheryl.w.mitchell@gmail.com.

There is a lovely new project emerging at Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol that connects students with health care professionals. They don’t need an appointment, they don’t need to leave school, and they can receive on-going support from both their school nurse, the care providers from the Mountain Health Center and the wider community. If they have insurance, it can be billed, and if they don’t, that is OK. This is one way we might be able to change the dismal situation of health care for our community. I am sure there are many other brilliant ideas awaiting us and encourage people to come together to share ideas.

We all know that there is a crisis in health care delivery in America and here at home. The cost of insurance is excruciating for employers and those who are self-employed. Yet the care we receive for our premiums is limited and ineffectual in leading to good health outcomes. Too many of us have no access to care, the waiting time for mental health services is outrageous, and the systems caring for our physical, mental and social health seem totally disconnected. Surely there is a better way for us to work together with a focus on the whole person, the whole family and the whole community.

Our family was recently in London, helping to care for grandchildren while our daughter was on tour. My husband had damaged his eye shortly before we left. It was not getting better so we went to a specialty vision clinic, nearby, on a Sunday, to have it examined. The clientele waiting to be seen were far more diverse than any I have ever seen in Vermont. Each person was treated with dignity and respect, including those who were obviously homeless and suffering from mental health challenges. The higher income clients, who were complaining that they should be moved to the top of the waiting list were also treated with dignity and respect; yet they didn’t move up on the waiting list or receive any special accommodation.

When our turn came, we got to consult with an amazing specialist in the field who did a thorough examination, far more detailed than anything my husband had received in Vermont, and then he was given a prescription which we were able to fill at no charge. It made all the difference in his eye healing as well as possible.

I know there are huge challenges in the national health service in Britain and Canada, but I also know that the way we are delivering health care in Vermont could be transformed to make sure far more of us are healthy at far lesser cost.

Addison County came together when the adolescent pregnancy rates were some of the highest in the nation, and crafted programs that now mean we have among the lowest rates. We were worried as a community that so few people had decent affordable housing and created the Addison County Community Trust, which has worked with other groups to expand access.

Although we still have a long way to go, we know that people in this community can come together to solve significant social and economic challenges. The new mobile health van in Bristol is a start. Surely, we can do better about the way we deliver health and wellness services. Please share your ideas with me, your legislators, and your neighbors.

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