Huffman tours SHCHD, pledges support for rural healthcare

"I want to be a resource for you," Congressman Jared Huffman told a small group of staff and board members on a tour of Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District's (SHCHD) facilities last Monday, Feb. 17.

Huffman represents the 2nd Congressional District, which stretches from the Oregon border to San Francisco Bay. The Congressman and his Eureka aide John Driscoll were joined by SHCHD operations director Kent Scown, patient care services director Sarah Beach, and board members David Ordonez and Gary Wellborn.

Huffman was also introduced to medical director Dr. Marcin Matuszkiewicz as he visited both hospital and clinic on a quiet holiday morning.

Scown described services provided by the hospital and clinic. When Huffman asked what additional services were most wanted, staff listed CT scanning capability, a home health program, and psychological counseling.

Huffman asked how the Affordable Care Act ACA was working for the district and its clients so far.

"Things are in flux," board member Ordonez replied, adding that the biggest problem SHCHD has is not with the new healthcare law but with the complex requirements of billing for government programs like Medicare and Medi-Cal, which together provide the majority of the district's revenue.

"It's a day to day challenge getting paid for our services," Ordonez said.

Huffman asked to be provided with specifics and pledged to help. He also noted that his rural constituents' main complaint about the ACA is the lack of options for people of middle income.

Low-income persons are covered either by government programs or by subsidies for private insurance, but people whose incomes are too high to qualify for assistance face a dilemma.

Under the ACA, these people should be able to select a commercial insurance plan that suits their needs and incomes, but in rural areas the selection is limited to only two plans that local medical providers will accept, Huffman noted. Both of these insurers have raised premiums so their clients are seeing an increase in the cost of coverage.

This is called the "narrow network" problem, Huffman said, and he is working to find ways to solve it. In response to a comment suggesting "free health care for all," the congressman said that he is currently co-sponsoring a bill to that effect.

Huffman asked about SHCHD's progress toward Electronic Health Records (EHR). Board and staff noted that the district is "moving cautiously," taking a "wait and see" approach because of the expense involved and the potential huge loss if the chosen software does not work for SHCHD.

The federal government is working toward healthcare reimbursements based on "outcomes" rather than the traditional fee-for-service payment, and EHR can help with that, Huffman said, because of its tracking and data-gathering capacity.

SHCHD board and staff expressed appreciation for Huffman's support, especially since there are only approximately 6000 voters in the district.

"All voters are equal," Huffman said, adding that he wants to support rural areas in general, and that health care is particularly important. "I want to see rural communities get more support from the federal government."


North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman toured the Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District's hospital and clinic in Garberville last Monday, Feb. 17. From left: SHCHD operations director Kent Scown, Huffman, director of patient care services Sarah Beach, and board members David Ordonez and Gary Wellborn.