Fighting for Health Care: Rural America Struggles with Loss of Doctors, Clinics

U.S. Today, March 6, 2020

FAIRFIELD, Washington — Drive 20 minutes south of Spokane and pine trees give way to rolling hills, which in fall are golden with remnants of the wheat harvest and in winter dusted with snow. This part of eastern Washington state is the beginning of the Palouse region. Its small farm towns once thrived but now struggle to offer essential services such as health care.

For decades in Fairfield, residents received care from a doctor in a community clinic on Main Street. Alongside a post office, community center (which doubles as Town Hall), drug store, bank and library, a stucco building where the health clinic used to be sits vacant.

Longtime Fairfield residents recall giving birth to their children at the clinic and visiting for regular checkups. But in 2019, after Kaiser Permanente acquired the health care group that operated the clinic, it closed and the doctor moved to Spokane, a 30-minute drive north.  The drive is reasonable for some Fairfield residents, but it’s not feasible for others. As the Spokane-based Spokesman-Review reported, the majority of residents at Palouse Country Assisted Living, one of Fairfield’s largest employers, cannot drive.

Nationally, more than one in five people over age 65 live in rural areas, Census data show, and in Washington state, 20 percent of people 65 and older live in rural communities.

Read more.