Living in rural Washington State with a child who has complex medical needs is extremely challenging. Just accessing their needed specialized healthcare services in Spokane or Seattle, sometimes located five or more hours away, is an arduous journey for families. For example, a monthly visit to a child’s heart doctor may require two adults to take off an entire day of work to travel, which can take a significant physical, emotional, and financial toll on families. And traveling is just one of the many burdens that are daily for these families. Did you know that only 9, out of 39, Washington counties are considered urban by the Washington State Department of Health?
My name is Renee Monson, I am a physical therapist working as an Elk’s therapist in Chelan, Douglas, and Grant counties. I began my career in 1994 in St. Louis, MO at an urban children’s hospital. In 1997, I moved to Seattle, WA and worked in pediatrics there for 7 years. My husband’s job as a physician then moved us to North Central WA. Wow, was I in for a change in perspective in terms of what is available for children with disabilities in rural communities compared to the urban communities I had worked in.
Over the past 19 years of living in North Central Washington, several factors that make it harder for children with disabilities in rural communities to access and receive their needed healthcare have become very clear to me. Just some of the challenges for families include extremely limited healthcare resources such as finding and accessing wheelchair and orthotic vendors, lack of public and private transportation to get to appointments or to simply attend community events, no local specialized healthcare providers, and more individuals without insurance coverage. Something I would not have thought about when living in an urban area is how difficult it would be for a child who is in a wheelchair to navigate a rural community without wheelchair accessible sidewalks to be able to leave their home.
I take pride in being an Elk’s therapist in Central Washington because this program provides a much-needed lifeline for families in rural communities who face significant challenges in accessing healthcare services. By offering home services, the Elks Therapy Program for Children brings specialized care closer to rural families, reducing the burden of transportation and providing crucial support to children with complex medical needs. I enjoy the challenge of searching for solutions to the complicated problems that these families experience, and my Elk’s job allows me the time and resources to put into these challenges. As a therapist, I have seen firsthand the difference that this program can make in the lives of families, and I am very proud and grateful to be part of it.