The Lumberjack student newspaper
Illustration by Valen Lambert

Humboldt’s heinous healthcare

Navigating the rural healthcare dilemma

by Valen Lambert

Humboldt is a quaint place – too quaint to have reliable healthcare. My experience with the healthcare infrastructure here has been ridiculous compared to the more populated places I’ve lived. 

This isn’t to say that our healthcare workers aren’t working hard. In fact, they’re overworked because there is a shortage of nurse practitioners (NPs) and physicians. Up until 2020, a California state regulation limited one physician to supervise no more than four NPs. With Humboldt’s shortage of physicians, this law directly impacted our health care centers’ ability to hire more NPs, resulting in a lack of health care workers. However, in 2020, AB 890 was passed, allowing NPs to work independently without physician supervision if they meet the required criteria to provide sufficient care. There are people who disagree with AB 890, believing that it will not serve people who need more specialized, significant care. 

Despite the passing of AB 890, Humboldt is still recovering from its shortage of healthcare providers. It is apparent in the way that I have to wait two months for a doctor’s appointment, and in how I was turned away from urgent care because they had already met max capacity by noon. 

I am one of the 36% of people in this county who get their health coverage through the government funded Medi-Cal. Another 30% get support through Medi-Care, which is for seniors or people with disabilities. That means over half of Humboldt’s population is vying to be seen by the few primary care clinics that take government issued insurance, most of which often aren’t accepting new patients because they’ve reached capacity. 

I got lucky and was able to find a provider taking new patients, but it doesn’t surprise me that my appointment for a first visit was scheduled to be two months away. I was hoping to get a referral to a physical therapist for a shoulder injury. What would I do if I had a really pressing issue? The urgent care in Humboldt is a nightmare. If you’re lucky to get there before they’ve reached capacity for the day — in which case you’d have to come back the next day — then you’d be waiting three to four hours to be seen. This in no way reflects the hard-working personnel of these facilities, but is a side-effect of understaffed rural healthcare systems.

 If you look at the reviews for the urgent cares and hospitals in Humboldt, they tend to get a lot of negative reviews and low star ratings, usually for wait times and inaccessibility. I’ve never been one to care much about reviews but when it comes to my local hospital, that’s something I’m sure we’d all prefer to read positive reviews for. Arcata’s local Mad River Hospital unfortunately has two-and-a-half stars on Google reviews, mostly from people waiting several hours for walk-in care at the emergency room, giving up, and eventually driving to St. Joe’s in Eureka, which has even less stars.

Thankfully, here on campus we have the Student Health Center. It’s decent, cheap, and won’t have you waiting hours on end while your bone is popping out of your skin and you’re bleeding out on the curb. 

Don’t even get me started on trying to find a dentist in Humboldt that takes Medi-Cal. The only dentist office that does is in Eureka and is usually not accepting new patients. Many folks with Medi-Cal have to go to Redding or Santa Rosa to get the dental care they need. You best believe I’ve been flossing since I’ve moved here. 

I love Humboldt, but my experience with healthcare here has been disheartening. What does it take to bring more health practitioners to Humboldt? How do we fix this problem? I’m wearing my helmet, seatbelt, taking all my vitamins, being so safe I’d make my mother proud – I sure as heck don’t want to be delusionally waiting around for acute care.

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