By Diana Marcum
December 6, 2010
The medical clinic in Yosemite National Park… will become the first medical clinic in a national park to be operated by the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
It’s an unusual solution to a problem that threatened to leave the storied tourist draw without a clinic.
Tenet — the Dallas-based investor-owned hospital company that’s owned the clinic since 1995 — has been losing money on the facility every year.
“There’s lots of patients, but not a lot of revenue,” said Yosemite spokesperson Scott Gediman, adding, “The bottom line was we were looking for a way to keep a clinic open when it couldn’t make money.”
Most national parks don’t have their own clinics because they are near cities. But no clinic in Yosemite would mean rangers, tourists and workers in the country’s most visited park would be more than an hour’s drive away from medical care.
In October, as the clinic’s fate remained precarious, local climbers hung a sign reading “Save Our Clinic ” high up on El Capitan, the iconic 3,000-foot vertical rock formation at the north end of Yosemite Valley.
Housed in a stone and timber lodge in the heart of Yosemite Village, the clinic, which opened in 1929, is a family practice and outdoor adventure emergency department rolled into one. The clinic has served about 7,000 patients annually.
“We see everything here,” Sean Pence, the clinic manager, said. He added, “We get colds and flus, abrasions, heart attacks. We’re orthopedic central — lots of ankles and wrist injuries from falls. We see snowboarders with head injuries, climbers with frostbite.”
The two agencies — Public Health Service and the National Park Service — will man the clinic together. The health service is providing doctors and nurses, and the park service is providing building maintenance and support staff.
By Don McCanne, MD
Yosemite visitors know how isolated Yosemite Valley is. With a large permanent park staff and the highest volume of tourists of all national parks, Yosemite’s 24-hour clinic has been a godsend for those with urgent or sometimes life-threatening needs. So what were they to do when the clinic’s operator, investor-owned Tenet, decided to leave because the clinic wasn’t profitable?
Where do we usually turn when there is a crying need that the private sector fails to fulfill? Did I hear… The Government?
Yes. Talk about an ideal solution. Our own Public Health Service providing health care in our own national park. Socialized medicine at its finest. This is an essential service being provided to those who need it – not based on the ability to milk a profit, but based simply on meeting the health care needs of a community, albeit an unusual community including many foreign visitors.
Think of how fortunate the park employees and visitors will be. They will have available, 24 hours a day, medical services of which we can be envious. Think about that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had in our own communities 24-hour clinics staffed with our own public employees who were there with a mission to serve, rather than a mission to enhance profits?
Maybe we’ve been too wimpy in pushing merely for a single payer insurance program. We’re already pay more per capita through the tax system than do nations with socialized medicine. Maybe we should be advocating for a better deal by improving and expanding the National Health Service so that we could all have access to it. Not just Medicare for all, but National Health Service for all.
The opponents of health care reform have moved the goal posts so far to the right that even a Blue Cross/Blue Shield-like public option has been excluded. Suppose we move our goal posts far to the left to a program of socialized medicine – an improved National Health Service for all. If the opponents of reform really believed that was a genuine threat, maybe they would meet us center field with a private health care delivery system financed by a single payer Medicare for all.
Can we expect that coming from a government that is too timid to stand up to the billionaires who have benefited from the massive transfer from the workers to the wealthy? A government that would dig our deficit hole deeper by not allowing a temporary, decade-long, partial tax holiday for billionaires to expire as scheduled? Don’t think so. Obama promised health care for all, but instead he is delivering much more wealth for the wealthiest, and we’re paying.