Inequitable Funding Challenges Local Healthcare

Based upon the current payment structure to operate and maintain healthcare centers, the federal government has created a structural deficit that endangers the future financial stability of our healthcare delivery system. Healthcare centers negotiate payments with private insurance, receive nominal pay for Medicare patients, and obtain even less pay for Medicaid patients.

Based on the COVID19 CARES Act legislation, the payment schedule is calculated on the Medicare scale; however, numerous patients are enrolled under the Medicaid program which both receives and pays less for services than Medicare.  Neither program covers payments for uninsured patients, yet federal law requires their treatment. The consequence is that health centers nationwide are losing money, which undermines their longer-term financial stability.

Meanwhile, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, with the support of Republicans in the legislature, has joined in a lawsuit pending before the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act, including coverage for pre-existing conditions and expansion of Medicaid in Arizona. This week, Republicans in our legislature pushed through a bill to require insurers to offer coverage for pre-existing conditions – but they left the “affordable” part out of that requirement. Republicans’ vision for healthcare is to push us backward at a time when our hospitals and care centers are financially unstable and our citizens are suffering in a pandemic.

Fortunately, Flagstaff Medical Center and Tuba City Hospital have received some emergency funding under the C.A.R.E.S Act. Local healthcare centers remain a major concern, nonetheless, especially those on Native lands where funding was inexplicably delayed. Local centers are the first responders to emerging health concerns and vital to preventing future epidemics.

We need elected officials who will systematically resolve inequities and inefficiencies in our health system. Please educate yourself, contact your representatives, and vote for informed, responsible leaders.

Looking forward from these troubling times

COVID-19 is as much an opportunity as a threat, if we envision where we can emerge from this pandemic. Our slowed pace of life enables us to plan how we re-establish the “unalienable Rights … of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” by granting dignity, justice and access to equal opportunity to all.

Christ’s message “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” needs to move into business and government, which can occur if we elect honest leaders. CEOs and elected officials will always have power, and opportunity to abuse power, which is why they must be held accountable and committed to shrinking the “dark web”.

“Predatory advertising” will shame us into buying the hippest (or hyped) accessory while business systems struggle to recreate their markets and food banks scrounge to feed the needy. Displaced workers will re-educate (given opportunity) as new technologies replace previously needed skill sets. Some service provider wages will plunge and higher management will grovel for continued six-plus digits, forgetting their lessons from Sunday School.

Alternatively, we could recognize that family time, whether personal or Zoomed, is the greatest gift we rarely ask for. Travel less and learn more by absorbing stories of perseverance. Grow a garden and teach children self-sufficiency. We’ll live lighter on a planet already stressed by too many people burning too much fuel to obtain too much stuff we don’t need. While living lighter, we can help our neighbors, a displaced worker, or a homeless woman with family. We can become the planet’s greatest nation if we choose giving back, and leaders who also give, as a national behavior.

An Ounce of Prevention …

Prevents a pound of cure. True today more than ever as we anxiously await our government lifting COVID-19 restrictions on stay-at-home, businesses, and other aspects of our lives. As much as this has been an economic downturn, it is primarily a health issue that needs to be decided by healthcare professionals. Our government officials need to withhold judgment and follow the science as opposed to opening our economy and social interactions prematurely and risk a re-infection that could cause more illness and deaths.

It has been assumed that head government officials are the best equipped to make these decisions; however, the effects of the decisions are felt in the local communities, communities where Mayors, City Council members, and Boards of Supervisors have the best perspective on local conditions and best course forward. Our Governor, like the President, has declared that he is in the best position; however, common sense would defer to local governments. This is a time when we need to reverse the trend of concentrating authority in distant government and re-assert the right of and responsibility for decision-making at the local level.

While this may not happen immediately, we need to be thinking about how we want to govern ourselves as we emerge from and after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. Our first opportunity to do so will be the November election. I encourage everyone to vote for candidates that advocate for local governance as opposed to the concentration of power in the foreign country of Phoenix.

Take a Moment to View The Night Sky

There is a significant sky event happening this week which will not occur again during our lifetimes. Venus will join the Pleiades star cluster in the west on the night of April 2 and 3. Many Native tribes consider Venus to be their Mother while ancestral Christian and other cultures see Venus as having feminine characteristics. Amongst the Pawnee, their Mother rejoining her children is a sacred event and was a symbolic sign of unity among the human family.  From a cultural-religious perspective, this is a clear message that we, humans, need to live in unity with each other.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for more family time as well as the opportunity to adjust our behavior within and between our communities, states, nations, and the natural world. This is our time to learn how to live with each other. The message is but one lesson from Von Del Chamberlain, one of my mentors in a 30+-year career as a cultural astronomer or one who studies the ways of knowing (science) within ancestral cultures. If you are interested in learning more, go to www.scaas.org.

Emerging Need Leads to Community Giving Opportunity

Our rural communities are in an emerging need that may be unseen by those living in cities or suburbs. Native Americans and remote-lifestyle individuals are being disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic often losing their jobs/ income, capacity to buy food or pay rent, and care for their families and self. Besides the lack of access to health care, those living remotely must travel significant distances (burning fuel and dollars) to reach empty shelves at stores. Not only has access to food (and their capacity to purchase it) been limited, but so too household provisions, prescriptions, and medical care. Aid from the Federal and State government will likely not arrive soon enough to provide for the needs of these people.

Having taught on the Navajo Nation for 10 years, I’ve spoken with friends experiencing and witnessing this emerging need. I spoke with State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai and discussed how individuals, different organizations as well as local and state governments may be able to respond. We agreed that a response needs to be coordinated and may be best managed through the County and State Incident Management System. She has encouraged Navajo President Nez to request Governor Ducey call on the State National Guard to assist the Native tribes of Arizona. She has also contacted U.S. Senator Sinema and Representative O’Halleran anticipating long-term needs per the Federal responsibility to native people.

I am engaging with others to develop ideas about how we, as the Greater Flagstaff community, can help our neighbors who live in these situations. We are looking at and contacting existing resources (such as the Flagstaff Family Food Center, St. Mary’s Food Bank) as to how we, as individuals, can help support this effort.

  • Currently, St. Mary’s Food Bank is working on a plan to get food to the Navajo Nation. This is being coordinated with the County Emergency Response Team.
  • The Flagstaff Family Food Center is open Tuesday-Saturday 9am to 1pm for those needing food boxes. A personal ID is required and boxes may be picked up at 3805 E. Huntington, Flagstaff 86004.
  • County Supervisor Jim Park’s office shared that Chapter Houses can apply for $5000 Community Initiative Funding to provide food and provisions to those in need.
  • County Supervisor Lena Fowler asks that people not take food to the Navajo Nation because 1) they may transport the COVID-19; 2) Tuba City has recently had trucks deliver food and necessities to stores; and 3) the Navajo Nation Incident Command is handling the situation 928-871-7014.

While our country has become politically divided and we are now impacted by the Covid-19, the way forward is for us to work together as a community. Nobody asked or cared about my politics when I was making and delivering sandbags during last year’s Museum Fire crisis, and the same should be true today. Nearly all religions call on individuals to work for the common good. Let’s make sure that we contribute to our community health by helping those in need that have often supported our businesses and community. Look for more announcements on how giving to others will help us through our current pandemic challenge.

Bryan Bates, Doney Park

Bates Files Final Papers for Election! But why no photo?

On Wednesday, March 25, I filed 494 petition signatures (I needed 147) with the County Elections Office to qualify for the Democratic Primary in August. It is typical of politicians to get photos of as they submit their nominating petitions; however, given the precautions necessary because of COVID-19, I didn’t. In order to file, I had to make an appointment, be let into the County Offices lobby, then sit at one end of a six-foot table and slide my papers to the election official. I took out my phone to take a picture and said – what the heck! —lobby is empty, election official is looking down, this is anti-climactic, and put my phone away.

Currently,  District 4 Supervisor is the most contested race in Coconino County. Three candidates (including myself) filed statements of interest for the Democratic Primary and two candidates for the Republican Primary. Nominating petitions are due April 6 and I was the first to file.

I want you to be assured that our County offices are open and employees are doing their job. At a time when our national and state governments are flailing, it is imperative that our local governments remain focused on essential tasks, including assuring that the election process that is fundamental to our democracy runs smoothly. From what I saw yesterday, our County government is accomplishing this goal.

I pledge that I will keep these services operating when, with your help, I serve as the District 4 Supervisor. Right now, my campaign is restructuring to accommodate the realities of campaigning with COVID-19 precautions. These will make our work more expensive than initially planned.  I can only serve you if you help me – please donate what you can.

COVID-19 Update

Yesterday, the County Board of Supervisors approved a Declaration of Emergency for Coconino County. This closes many services except those deemed essential. In addition, the County Health Department issued additional guidance and instructions to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

Meanwhile, protect yourself from this virus as best as possible. I am working from home so as to not expose myself or others to the virus. Please be wise — my thoughts are with you.

 

Board of Supervisors’ Work on the Budget, Animal Protection, COVID-19

On March 10, I attended the Coconino County Board of Supervisors meeting so I know the issues once I am elected as County Supervisor. Of course, I can only be elected with your help!

First on the agenda was a request for additional funding for the High Country Humane Society which the County has previously funded and helped restore. The care of forfeited or abandoned pets is a concern for which the County has a legal and humane responsibility. The request for additional funds brought to light the challenge of balancing competing needs with a limited budget. The Board did approve additional money for the Humane Shelter with the proviso that the Shelter work toward becoming more financially independent and report back to the Board on an annual as opposed to a 3-year period.

The Board and Departments are working on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.  The good news is that sales tax revenues are higher than projected but that is counter-balanced by expenses also being higher. On the bright side, expenses grew slower than revenues. The County is currently funding 75% of its pension liability, which is not good, but Coconino is in a better position than 11 of the 15 counties in Arizona.  The County Finance Director presented three projected growth and expense liability scenarios each differing on the year we enter a corrective recession.  All scenarios were fiscally conservative, meaning the County is planning now for the future.  The budgeting process is more complex, and Patrice Horstman, whom I plan (again with your help) to serve on the Board of Supervisors with, has presented more detail on her Facebook post.

The biggest item of concern was the increase in overtime payroll expenses which has increased 150% since 2015. The County has been keeping pace by leaving positions unfilled. The Jail District is the greatest concern where overtime has increased 21% in three years with no salary savings. The Board is committed to “keeping employees whole”, meaning paying a rate that matches or exceeds cost of living. The challenge comes in 1) the stress placed on employees by consistent over-time and 2) the cost of living in Coconino County.

The County Manager and Departments are all working together and will finalize the FY 2021 budget and maintain the 10-year budget management plan on-time. I’ll keep an eye on this work!

The County has already initiated action on the Covid19 virus and has been working ahead of its arrival here. Today, March 11, the County is hosting a session with healthcare professionals on those steps already taken and planned to combat the virus, and how the cooperation between different health care facilities will happen. Because of the forward-thinking of our County Health Services, we are in a better place than many other states and communities.

As I continue with the campaign and my work to prepare myself for the job of County Supervisor, I need your support. Please contribute to help with my campaign expenses.

From Awards to Our Future

I attended the 12th Annual Viola Awards last evening and was again impressed by the diversity of the nominees and the different award categories. Named for Viola Babbitt, an ardent supporter of arts and education, this event was truly reflective of Flagstaff. There were individuals from numerous ethnic groups, different lifestyles, and all ages. The awards covered a broad range of categories including, but not limited to, education for toddlers to senior citizens, arts in it numerous different forms, science and STEM in its multitude of disciplines, and community activists who may champion commonly agreed upon needs or advocate social change within Flagstaff and our larger national perspective.

The diversity of award categories, nominees and attendees was also reflective of our regional community. Not only were Native people, African-Americans, Latinx, and Anglo present, but so was a sense of our natural world as expressed in the arts, music and science. We live in an incredible region that includes aspects of the Great Basin Desert, temperate pinyon-juniper forest, mountainous Ponderosa Pine and Canadian forests. This intermix of nature with human culture is reminder of what we need to preserve within our community and our country – diversity. The very foundation of natural systems that support human culture is the diversity of species, each fulfilling its own niche, each entitled to its own life, liberty, and pursuit of existence.

As we enter into our next election season, I ask everyone, regardless of race, religion, sex or political affiliation (including independents), to research the different candidates running for office. Then look to your children, grandchildren and beyond and ask yourself which of those candidates will be the best stewards in maintaining both human and natural diversity. Though not on the ballot, the consequence of our tabulated votes is the future quality of life for your current or future grandkids.

~Bryan