WISE, Va. – At the end of Patriot Drive, a stone’s throw from the Wise County Sheriff’s Office and just around the corner from the campus of UVa-Wise, are mobile devices from Health Wagon and Smiddy Clinic – home base for seniors and one of the most recognized free healthcare providers in America.
Their holdings have been and continue to be documented by national media, and their services are still in high demand across this corner of central Appalachia.
By 2021, Health Wagon had more than 35,000 patient visits from nearly 11,000 people, provided $ 5.4 million in care, and distributed more than $ 1 million in medicine. A significant portion of their time and energy was spent fighting COVID-19, a disease that over the past year affected more than 26,000 in their primary service area in six counties and claimed nearly 400 lives.
The organization, which relies on private donors to keep the doors open, was rejected in its bid for reimbursement.
“We got a financial blow. We had to pay an abundance of overtime, PPE [personal protective equipment], and supplies. It cost about $ 1.7 million just to do our COVID relief efforts, ”said Health Wagon CEO and President Dr. Teresa Tyson.
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Their efforts helped meet needs that local health departments, private providers and the health service could not, she said.
These $ 1.7 million represent nearly one-third of the health care vehicle’s total value of care in 2021.
“We made a $ 1.7 million request to the state of Virginia, just to cover our expenses. We understand that Virginia has received all of this federal money, and we can not even get a refund, and it did not even come out of committee. ,” she said.
The Health Wagon paid the bills from reserves, many of which came in as gifts of $ 10 and $ 20 from individuals, she said.
“We are not a multimillion-dollar company. We are a small mother and pop organization started by a Catholic nun, but we try to have loud voices,” said clinical director Dr. Paula Hill-Collins. the lobbyists, but we try to be loud with what we say. “
At the General Assembly in 2022, Senator Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, Senator Travis Hackworth, R-Richlands, and Senator Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, submitted budget amendment 303 # 1S, seeking $ 1.749 million “from the General Fiscal Policy Fund in 2022 for “The Health Car, which has spent more than $ 1.7 million in unbudgeted capital and operating and maintenance expenses directly related to COVID-19. This funding will help rebuild the Health Car’s emergency reserve fund,” the item read.
The request was not included in the final draft budget.
Their dilemma was exacerbated by the sudden termination of a federal program run by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which had reimbursed Virginia providers nearly $ 100 million to cover COVID expenses since the pandemic began. Funding for that program ran out abruptly. Additional federal funding for COVID-19 has been cut.
All of this is appreciated by Tyson, who has spent the last two years at the forefront of treating the sick.
“You have the richest counties in America in northern Virginia and the poorest counties here. How can people sleep at night? How can you justify not sending funds for this? How can you justify not giving us some money back when we were “Have to spend all the $ 10 and $ 20 contributions that people give us? But politicians are fine with that – yes, most of them,” Tyson said. “We have some very good politicians who support us and we are thankful to God for them. But something needs to be done. Look at Virginia. Look at the inequalities that are here and the resources that are not coming here. These coal miners should not be forgotten. “
Tyson, her staff of about 50, supplemented by students and volunteers, spent much of the last two years dealing with the rise after wave of COVID-19 and its variants. Tyson said they’re all heroes.
“We did not have the support [others] had. It took a lot out of us financially and our workforce. Our staff is exhausted. We worked 24/7 – open on Saturdays and Sundays to try to get infusions in – because a matter of hours made a difference whether people survived or not, “Tyson said.” The trauma that has been inflicted on the U.S. health care “It’s similar to what you find in war. We are in it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Since she first became involved with the Health Wagon a quarter of a century ago, Tyson has seen the needs met – sometimes miraculously
“We work very hard, but I leave the bill to God. If he calls us to do it, he will give the means to do it. He will pay the bill,” Tyson said. “We are very concerned about the funding because we are a free clinic. But if people want to be a part of this incredible opportunity, we emphasize these $ 10 and $ 20 donations. If people want to give, there is an opportunity to be in Jesus’ hands. and feet right here in central Appalachia. “
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