Access to physical and mental health care is crucial today more than ever and is extremely limited in the entire state of Washington.

Many people experience barriers to preventative and nonemergency care due to barriers of transportation, underinsured, uninsured, and/or limited number of physicians. This problem is even more evident in Chelan and Douglas counties being a rural area with less transportation access and less physicians. Chelan and Douglas counties had only 2.74 physicians per 1,000 residents in 2019, not providing community members a provider that they know and trust.

With the large Hispanic and Latino population in the Wenatchee Valley we must consider that there are even more barriers to care for this population due to language, economic status, and culturally competent care. Without providing care for the Hispanic and Latino population, that is about 30% of the Chelan and Douglas population being uncared for.

Mental health is also a large issue for many in the state of Washington and even more now that we are being isolated through the COVID pandemic. In 2018 10.7% of adults in our two counties report having poor mental health over a span of a month. This lack of physician care causes a higher usage of emergency room visits for both physical and mental health challenges, which are extremely costly to residents.

These are our family and friends that are suffering or losing their lives because of not having proper care. We must do better for our local community members.

We can do better through the new bill SB 5385 Telehealth Payment Parity signed on March 19, 2020, that allows medical and mental health providers to bill at the same rate for telehealth services as an in-person service. Allowing providers to bill at the same rate as in-person will bring more providers to serve our people.

This bill also allows a patient to be seen through telehealth for a first time visit without needing to be seen in person for a first-time visit. This eliminates the need for transportation or fear of being in public due to the COVID virus. This means that our Hispanic and Latino population have a larger chance of having an available physician that is culturally aware and Spanish speaking. This means that our family and friends will be cared for as much as we care for them.

Now that this bill has passed what you can do is spread the word to the community that telehealth services are available. Telehealth is just as effective and sufficient as an in-person appointment and completely safe for the community.

Tell your friends and family and have them call their local clinic to ask for a provider that is providing telehealth visits. Community members can also write to our state representatives to ask for Bill 5385 videoconference telehealth services be extended to telephone services.

Not all community members have access to the internet or a working tablet or computer to use for appointments. By extending services to telephone this would open services to the economically disadvantaged, one of the most needed groups for medical services. Utilizing telephone services also allows the elderly population access to providers as they often do not have internet or know how to access video chat.

The elderly is an at-risk population for health risks regarding the COVID virus and at risk of mental health issues from chronic pain and isolation.

Why should you care to contact our state leaders and spread the word of this bill? We should all care because it could be you, your friend, or family member not getting the care they need.

Our community deserves to not be forgotten. Telehealth services are the way to help our loved ones during these unprecedented times.

Telehealth is the wave of the future to keep our community healthy.

Samantha Krumdieck is an online MSW Student at Our Lady of the Lake University