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Levy's hospital debate comes home to roost

Note: This column was published in the Chiefland Citizen on April 18.

Ever so often I get a phone call from a nice woman asking what the news is on the Chiefland hospital. “When will it be built?” she asks. 

She doesn't give her name, just asks me to write something. 

I have been hesitant to write anything that is not said in a public meeting. But, all bets are off: In my opinion, it's not likely we will get a hospital. 

I say that with a lot of regret, because I am someone who would love to have a local hospital right now.

I have cancer. OK, let's move on because my prognosis is that I will be around to aggravate Levy's beloved politicians for a long, long time. 

It would be great to have a local hospital to go to for tests and treatment — especially chemotherapy and radiation. Instead I am one in a parade of Levy residents who must travel to the medical mecca in the East because that's where the doctors and hospitals are. 

You want a surgeon to take out what ails you, go to Gainesville, Ocala or Crystal River, or maybe even Jacksonville. Depending on where you live in Levy County you can face a 30-75 minute drive, one-way, to a medical facility. Ditto for the different surgeons who put you back together. Also the oncologists to heal you. The lab tech and radiologist who find the problem. And the amazing plethora of specialists who treat things you never imagined. 

They all want to see you on a different day of the week. Can't do two or three in a day. Let's not mention the paperwork each one wants. I've met with seven doctors and I have at least two more to go before we set the date for that essential operation to remove the bit of cancer that lives within me. 

Which gets me down to our hospital-that-will-likely-be-a-long-way-into-the-future.

We are feeding the very thing that condemns our chance for a hospital. 

Let's start with the doctors. It seems doctors do not like to move to rural communities. Think about where the training hospitals and medical schools are. They're all in big cities. Cities have amenities and opportunities.

Doctors do not like to drive to the things they like. And our opportunities won't bring a doctor with a half-million in student loan debt to our community.

Our amenities are chili competitions and cake auctions on a Friday night. A graduation packed with the whole town saying goodbye to our youth. 

A quarter of us are veterans who want the free care they were promised. A large number of us are over 65 and living on fixed incomes. The rest of us have an average income of about $25,000. A lot of us are uninsured. One in five of us is below the poverty line. 

Forget the Norman Rockwell paintings. Medicine is a cold-eyed business. It wants its cash. That's why you are asked for your insurance information before a doctor's office will give you a date and time for an appointment. 

And we sabotage our hospital with a belief that big medicine is the cure. One doctor tells me when he gets a patient with a problem they immediately ask to be sent to a specialist. Specialists will not be relocating to our little hospital. It's likely they will only come for a visit and they will refer us to their operations in the nearby big cities for treatment. We will go because we believe the medical mecca of the East is better medicine.  The doctor wants us to go East because in the time he could be driving out here he can see two patients at $500 a pop. 

Bye-bye patient base. Pretty soon the little country hospital is in financial trouble. 

We have to be able to pay for doctors and a hospital. And we don't have that kind of “juice” right now. 

Doesn't matter how badly we need it. Doesn't matter how bad our health profile is or how many people are dying. 

Even though my caller says in her sweet voice: “It needs to come. It has been too long.” 

I have to say it won't come anytime soon. 

And, in the meantime, we will all be on the road again going back and forth to that mecca of medicine to the East helping it to grow bigger.

Lou Elliott Jones is the editor of the Chiefland Citizen. Contact her at editor@chieflandcitizen.com.