Guest column: Air ambulances services in Coconino County are rural residents, including Arizona tribe’s lifeline
As County Supervisor, it is one of my most important responsibilities to protect the public health of Coconino County. And in the face of COVID-19, that responsibility has become more important than ever.
With Arizona’s stay-at-home-order recently expiring and our state beginning to reopen, we must all do our part to keep this virus from spreading any further. Residents must continue taking necessary precautions to social distance, and policymakers and government representatives must ensure that counties throughout the country, especially those that haven’t been thrust into the limelight during the pandemic, have the necessary resources to combat any COVID-19 threats.
Rural communities have long faced obstacles when trying to locate accessible healthcare, especially in emergency situations. Being the second largest county by area in the country, this is of particular concern for Coconino County. From the Grand Canyon to the vast Native American Nations, the many natural treasures we enjoy and make our area so unique can also make it difficult to access healthcare. The truth is, it is not unusual for people in rural communities to have to travel more than an hour for routine medical care, including checkups and annual visits. And right now, being able to access healthcare rather quickly is top of mind for families across the country.
COVID-19 certainly tested our healthcare system to the max. Hospital beds filling, doctors and nurses working overtime, medications and supplies running scarce, and nursing homes overwhelmed. And while Arizona is seeing a downward trajectory in cases, residents still need assurance that, if needed, they will be able to receive care — whether it is COVID-19 related or an emergency situation. That is why our community is increasingly reliant on air ambulances. These vehicles are oftentimes rural residents’ lifeline, transporting individuals in critical condition to the nearest care center. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more important than ever.
Unfortunately, recent reports show that Arizona’s Navajo Nation now has the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the country, surpassing New York City. Healthcare has long been a concern for our Native American population, whose life expectancy is shorter than the average American and who are adversely impacted because of inadequate access to comprehensive care. That is unacceptable right now. And as elected officials, we need to work together to ensure that our Native American communities have our support as they fend off this infectious and deadly virus.
Congress, right now, is considering a number of legislative proposals to help our country stay afloat during these trying times, including small business loans, stimulus checks, and major support for our healthcare community. As these negotiations continue, I urge our senior senator from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, to keep not only rural communities in mind, but our Native American communities too. Air ambulance services could be at risk if certain proposals to solve surprise medical billing, including a bill from Senator Lamar Alexander, are included in the next relief package. Air ambulances are critical to rural communities and Native American communities, especially in the face of COVID-19. I hope that Senator Sinema will reach across the aisle, like she often does, and protect air ambulances.
The rural communities throughout Arizona need Senator Sinema’s leadership now more than ever to ensure our ability to access care. We should all urge Senator Sinema to do what’s best for Coconino County and the rest of Arizona so that lives are spared.
Jim Parks is Coconino County Supervisor for District 4. He is a lifelong Arizona resident.
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