My partner celebrated his 25th birthday with a skin cancer diagnosis.
A Pullman native, he briefly lived in California before returning to work at his father’s restaurant, Paradise Creek Brewery, which he now manages.
Since the diagnosis in August, Jonny has driven to and from Spokane and the valley for checkups and surgery. When he had a mole removed from his abdomen, he struggled to find a doctor in Pullman who was willing to remove another physician’s stitches. Jonny was unwilling to make the trip to Spokane again for such a simple procedure. While Pullman Regional Hospital in the past has offered a dermatology specialty clinic — which is where my partner received treatment for vitiligo about five years ago — it is no longer active, so Jonny had no choice but to seek treatment in Spokane.
Luckily for him, Jonny is a privileged man. With a business owner for a father and a human development professor at Washington State University for a mother, he was able to graduate from WSU without student loans and has since landed a salaried position. Despite the hassle of missing work, the drive to Spokane hardly makes a dent in his paycheck.
Many others on the Palouse are not so lucky.
The poverty rate is at 37.5 percent in Pullman, according to Data USA, with the median household income at $30,000.
For hourly employees, missing work is more than a hassle, it directly affects their income. Plus, scraping up the cost of getting to Spokane can be difficult, making the experience deeply stressful. It gives our most vulnerable residents every excuse to ignore symptoms and miss out on potentially life-saving preventive care.
When I saw Pullman Regional Hospital’s proposed bond on my ballot, I didn’t hesitate to vote in favor for it, though I admit I didn’t read too deeply into the proposal at the time.
According to Daily News articles, the $29 million bond would fund a 45,000 square foot expansion, in addition to other improvements.
The biggest controversy surrounding the proposition, which failed to receive enough ‘yes’ votes earlier this month, was that only Pullman residents would foot the bill for a hospital that serves the entire region. With nearly 50,000 residents in the area, patients at PRH often have to wait in the emergency room until space opens up in the Intensive Care Unit, and it is rare to get an appointment the same week you call to schedule it — not only at the hospital, but at dentist offices, counseling services and other health care providers, too.
Pullman is no longer a small town hidden in fields of wheat. Our residents, permanent or temporary, should not have to spend what could be their last months or years making a three-hour commute, and those of us with limited means deserve to be able to seek potentially life-saving treatment close to home.
I call on the hospital to again propose the bond, but find a way to expand the burden to more than just Pullman residents.
The people of our region deserve this service, and we all should have a chance to put our tax money toward it if we so choose.
Promising the addition of an oncology department as well as the return of the dermatology specialty clinic should also sweeten the deal for wary taxpayers.
Alysen Boston is a WSU grad, freelance journalist and co-host of the podcast All Over the Map with Ally and Ian. She’s from Baltimore but has called the Palouse home since 2014.