Access to health care is a big challenge for older adults in Verde Valley – KJZZ

Yavapai County is home to some smaller rural communities including Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Jerome and Camp Verde. It’s also home to thousands of older adults who come to the area to retire. But a growing challenge is access to health care. 
The Verde Valley is stunning county. And it’s easy to see why folks might retire there. But accessing health care can mean long drives to Phoenix or Flagstaff. 
Kent Ellsworth is the executive director of the Verde Valley Caregiver Coalition, a nonprofit that supports older adults. 
And one of the many things they do is provide rides. This year alone, he says, volunteers have driven 420,000 miles. 
“That’s about 100 and 150,000, more than we drove in other years,” he said. 
To put it another way, that’s about 8,000 doctor’s appointments. 
Ellsworth said there’s not only a shortage of physicians in the area, but also specialty care physicians. While telehealth is a good solution, he said only about 20% of cases could be resolved via telehealth. The other 80% of cases require an actual doctor’s visit. 
Josh Tinkle is the acting CEO for Northern Arizona Healthcare. He says the focus is ensuring residents have access to primary care services. 
“So stuff like primary care, OBGYN, therapy, services, lab services, and imaging services. And while we’ve been able to maintain access to those services in the region, over the past two years, we have not been able to always keep those as close to home as possible.”
This also means looking at recruitment and retention. Tinkle says housing, both in terms of availability and cost, are challenges, so is employment for the trailing spouse. 
“So we’ve been working closely with the local governments and municipalities to talk about what economic development looks like in the region, and how do we continue to bring those types of services to the Verde Valley?
Something else Tinkle notes is the geography itself.
“We service about 50,000 square miles across northern Arizona. And we say there’s about a population of a million in those regions. The challenge is the 50,000 square miles and 1 million people, it’s pretty dispersed,” said Tinkle.
Despite that Tinkle said Northern Arizona Healthcare is committed to the region and ensuring access to care.
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