Community Stories

Reality of Healthcare in Southeastern Ohio

When their health is endangered, where can the residents of Southeastern Ohio go?

There are more than 33 hospitals, medical facilities and clinics in Athens County, Ohio. But what good are those facilities when 30.3 percent of the county’s residents are living below the poverty line, and nearly 10percent are living without health insurance?

When Athens resident Adam Hart went to the O’Bleness Hospital emergency room, it was his last choice. He had just gotten over the flu, but then began experiencing troubling symptoms he could not explain. Even though he noticed muscle weakness, numbness, and lack of motor control in his legs, he waited as long as possible to seek help.

“I wanted to wait the maximum amount of days they told me I could to see a doctor, because I already had too much to pay for,” Hart said.

Due to being the poorest county in Ohio, according to Cincinnati.com, the people of Athens County run into major roadblocks when trying to find medical help. Hart had no health insurance.

“I had Medicaid at one point, but then I got a part-time teaching job at the university, and they said ‘you’re over the limit,’ so I lost everything,” Hart said.

In 2016, OhioHealth released their most recent Community Needs Assessment. They acknowledged that communities in Southeastern Ohio were in need of more medical assistance, especially in five key areas: substance abuse, economic development, access to care – especially for children and seniors, chronic disease, and behavioral and mental health.

In many cases, as in Hart’s, residents avoid medicine for so long to the point of being life threatening.

A note from his former family doctor finally convinced him something was wrong. Hart was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological infection that can be paralyzing and even deadly in extreme cases.

“I had to call a friend to hoist me up, fireman style, because I couldn’t walk, and (my fiancée) drove me to the hospital, because I couldn’t afford an ambulance,” Hart said.

Staff at O’Bleness did not think they had the ability to accurately address Hart’s needs. He was transferred to Riverside Hospital in Columbus from Athens via ambulance.

Hart’s fiancée Manon Rondeau is from France, a country whose healthcare is nearly free. When the thousands of dollars of medical bills rolled in from Hart’s treatment, she couldn’t comprehend the trouble they were now in.

“I can’t understand the idea of leaving somebody in the street very sick, and not taking care of a person. If you are sick, we will take care of you.”

Manon Rondeau, a student from France

The terrifying experience that Hart and Rondeau experienced translates to the rest of Athens County. Hart didn’t want help because he didn’t want to spend the money he didn’t have and couldn’t rely on insurance, much as many county residents do.

“When you go to (the doctor) the first question they ask is ‘how will you pay?’ and if you say you can’t, they say goodbye,” Rondeau said.

Ciara Amstutz, a medical student at Ohio University, is familiar with similar predicaments in Athens County. The idea of helping people in need is what drives her to work harder.

“I believe social determinants of health are very important concepts to understand and acknowledge as a medical student to be able to deliver quality care to my future patients,” she said. “I also think it is important as a future physician to learn how to be an advocate our patients, and help make our communities a healthier and better place.”

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