Hometown health care providers know importance of National Rural Health Day
PAYSON ROUNDUP | Nov 12, 2019
National Rural Health Day recognizes rural communities are wonderful places to live and work, which is why an estimated 57 million people call them home. These small towns are places where neighbors know each other, listen to each other, respect each other and work together to benefit the greater good.
These rural communities also have unique health care needs. Today more than ever, rural communities must address accessibility issues, a lack of health care providers, the needs of an aging population suffering from a greater number of chronic conditions, and larger percentages of un- and underinsured citizens. And rural hospitals — which are often the economic foundation of their communities in addition to being the primary providers of care — struggle daily as declining reimbursement rates and disproportionate funding levels make it challenging to serve their residents.
That is why the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health sets aside the third Thursday of every November — Nov. 21, 2019 — to celebrate National Rural Health Day.
First and foremost, National Rural Health Day is an opportunity to “Celebrate the Power of Rural” by honoring the selfless, community-minded, can-do spirit that prevails in rural America. However, it also gives us a chance to bring to light the unique health care challenges that rural citizens face — and showcase the efforts of rural health care providers.
Dr. Alex Vlahopoulos and his wife Dr. Lauren Vlahopoulos are examples of rural health care doctors that have come from Payson and returned to Payson, practicing medicine here.
MHA Health Scholar giving back locally
In 2004, Payson High School seniors, Alex Vlahopoulos and his future wife, Lauren Bartoli, were headed to University of Arizona for careers in the medical field. Although they both received substantial university scholarships, those scholarships did not cover room and board — which was expensive. To help with those expenses, Alex received an MHA Human Health career scholarship for $500.
“I was broke and the MHA scholarship helped so much. I had no resources at the time, so it was a huge help,” he said.
Today, they are giving back by caring for patients in their hometown of Payson.
Alex Vlahopoulos is now a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and works as an emergency medicine physician and director at Banner Payson Medical Center Emergency Department.
Lauren Vlahopoulos also has her doctorate degree (Doctor of Pharmacy, or PharmD) and is a pharmacist at the Payson Safeway.
After living in Iowa and Michigan and starting a family of their own, being close to family is part of what brought them back to Payson in 2018.
“It seems everyone gravitates back to home,” said Lauren.
Lauren and Alex agreed, “Our mentality is that this is our community of Payson ... these are our people, these are our patients, this is our place! We had the opportunity to live and work anywhere, and we made a choice to come back here.”
There are many reasons why they like practicing rural medicine in Payson. Dr. Vlahopoulos works with many of the people that he knew when he was younger.
He shared, “As a doctor in a rural setting, I get to do a lot of procedures (which I love); I don’t have the luxury of calling on a handful of specialists for each individual task, as can be found in an urban setting. Although it may be more difficult initially to master a wide variety of procedures, it is much more gratifying because of that variety. In our Payson emergency room, there is one physician at a time. If there is a bus accident involving 30 people, it is all on that single physician. Rural locations also present special challenges for staffing. For example, when we had the massive snowstorm back in February (36 inches in 36 hours), all the other ER physicians live out of town, so they could not get to Payson to work their shifts. Thankfully, Dr. Judith Hunt was able to assist me in covering the emergency department. She is an example of how we all row the boat together — we all help each other out! Living in a rural community, you also have a much greater ability to influence. I can contact the patient’s physician to follow-up because I know that physician personally and I know the patient will receive good follow-up, so I can safely discharge the patient.”
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