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The Long Ride From Halfway

Kay Young (left) with daughter Sarah of HRSA's Office of Rural Health Policy. July 2 started out as a typically pleasant Oregon day for Kay, but quickly turned far worse. By that night, they had experienced first-hand the value of the agency's rural programs.
Kay Young (left) with daughter Sarah of HRSA's Office of Rural Health Policy. July 2 started out as a typically pleasant Oregon day for Kay, but quickly turned far worse. By that night, they had experienced first-hand the value of the agency's rural programs.

 

Kay Young was packing her bags for a three-week trip when the headache hit – so suddenly that it dazed her. She remained conscious, but words escaped her. And help was not near at hand.

The town of Halfway, Oregon, is in the northeast corner of the state, near the Idaho border and the Payette National Forest. Population: 288, and falling. One of every five households is occupied by a person over age 65, living alone.

It's about as rural as a rural town can get, and still be called a town. It was a bad place for Kay Young to be struck by an aneurysm.

At a recent meeting of rural health providers, her daughter Sarah Young of HRSA's Federal Office of Rural Health Policy told the tale of her mother's race for survival – and how the agency's efforts over many years probably helped save her life.

A photo of mountains in Oregon
At almost every step of the way, Kay Young traveled along a network of providers funded by FORHP – one of hundreds that crisscross the nation, delivering patients in peril from remote communities to life-saving facilities far away. For Kay, that meant crossing one time zone, the Snake River and half the length of Idaho from her home in the Oregon foothills, a half-mile above sea level, as her brain slowly bled.

 

First on the scene was the Halfway Oxbow volunteer ambulance service, which raced her 50 miles through the hills to St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker City (population: 9,770) -- one of about 1,350 "critical access hospitals" across the nation. Often located in frontier areas, miles from the nearest major city, they typically have small staffs, fewer than 25 beds and operate on shoestring budgets, underwritten by HRSA as 24/7 emergency way stations for the sick and injured.

Sarah YoungThere, "the emergency room staff diagnosed her with a cerebral aneurysm and called the LifeFlight air ambulance to transport her to the neurosurgical team in Boise, Idaho," recounted Sarah, who was at work that day in Rockville, Md., tethered to her phone.

"All of the parts of the rural health care system were ready and waiting when she needed them," Sarah told the rural providers. "I'm sharing Mom's story because I want to say thank you … on behalf of all the people you will never know and never see, and especially on behalf of my mother, Kay Young, and our family."

Kay is home again, recovering, and travels at least three hours each way to Boise for follow-up visits.

Sarah Young is coordinator of the FORHP Flex Program, which provides grants to State Offices of Rural Health to maintain local Emergency Medical Services and Critical Access Hospitals. She began her federal career as a Presidential Management Fellow at HUD, after receiving her MPH from Portland State University and her bachelor's degree in biology from Smith College in Massachusetts.

She is a 1999 honors graduate of Pine Eagle High School in Halfway, Oregon.

Date Last Reviewed:  September 2018