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Elko is about to take a big step toward providing better care for its residents who rely on Medicaid and Medicare.

The University of Nevada’s Rural Family Medicine Residency Program will bring two medical residents to Elko beginning next summer to help address the shortage of primary-care doctors who accept patients enrolled in the government programs.

It will be nice to see the fruits of an effort that began more than two years ago, after retired Great Basin College professor Larry Hyslop began to explore why he could not find a regular doctor after he turned 65. Hyslop wrote a letter to the editor in July 2015 describing his treatment as a “second-class citizen” after signing up for Medicare.

“Medicare.gov lists doctors in Elko who take Medicare but it is hopelessly out of date,” he wrote. “Each time I heard of a possibility, I would rush to the doctor’s office, only to hear ‘no, we are not taking new patients’ or ‘we don’t take Medicare any more’ or ‘we can put you on a list.’”

The only care he could find was from a medical resident working with Dr. David Hogle on a temporary basis.

Hyslop is the type of person who responds to problems by trying his best to tackle them. He organized an ad hoc group that drew many people to meetings at Northeastern Nevada Museum, where the issue was openly discussed by all the parties involved.

“The basic problem with Medicare is that the reimbursement for the physician is half, compared with insurance,” explained Hogle. “They are spending more time with elderly patients for less pay.”

Other concerns mentioned at the meeting included the high salaries that had to be offered to get doctors to come to Elko, and high prices for rent of medical office spaces.

Hyslop’s group got the attention of Elko County commissioners, who formed a county health board in December of 2015. They also got the attention of the University of Nevada.

Earlier this month, Hyslop announced the residency program’s plans for Elko.

“We’re going to have two instructors in January that start practices half-time so that’s like having one full-time doctor,” he said. “We haven’t had a new family doctor in Elko for years and years.”

We hope this program is only the first step in providing more comprehensive medical care in Elko, where a report stated that roughly 1 out of 4 residents relies on Medicaid or Medicare for their health insurance.

“What concerns me is that Medicaid and Medicare recipients are more of an at-risk population compared to commercially insured folks,” Dr. John Packham of the UNR School of Medicine told the Elko County Health Board in April. “They’re more likely to have chronic conditions — multiple chronic conditions — and unmet health needs to begin with. That will eventually catch up with the community in the form of greater health care spending that everybody has to bear in some form or another.”

One way to cut costs is through the increased use of telemedicine, and Elko is seeing advances on this front as well.

Hyslop announced that Dr. Daniel Spogen, chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the UNR School of Medicine and site director of the Rural Family Practice Residency Program starting in Elko, has opened a telemedicine clinic at Nevada Health Centers on 14th Street.

We applaud Hyslop and all of the doctors and public officials who have sought to address this problem over the past two years. Thanks to the response from the University of Nevada and technological developments like telemedicine, residents of Nevada’s isolated rural communities can hope for broader health care in the future.

Gerald Ackerman of the UNR School of Medicine is scheduled to give the Elko County Health Board an update on the Medical Residency Program and Family Practice Residency Program at 2 p.m. Oct. 3 in the Nannini Administration Building.

Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are Travis Quast, Jeffry Mullins and Suzanne Featherston.

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