BULLHEAD CITY — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema will visit Bullhead City on Saturday to meet with the newly formed Mohave Health Coalition. Coalition founder Dr. Waheed Zehri is making sure the Arizona Democrat has something to take home from the visit.
“I already have some homework for Sen. Sinema,” said Zehri, president and CEO of the coalition and chief of staff at Western Arizona Regional Medical Center. “We’re not sending her home without some homework. We’re not having her visit just for a photo op. We want her to take the things we share with her and do something for the community.”
Zehri said he spearheaded formation of the coalition to address serious problems with the health care system in rural Arizona.
“I came to Bullhead City in 1995,” said Zehri, an internist with a practice, Desert Oasis Medical Center, in the city. “I’ve had more than 250,000 patient visits in 25 years. ... I’ve had more communication with patients than just about anybody else around.”
That communication brought him to a conclusion shared by many health care professionals in the area: It is underserved. The coalition, a consortium of people from the local health care industry, elected officials, educators and other key community members, formally was incorporated last month to address that fact.
The meeting with Sinema, Zehri said, will allow the coalition to share its views — including questions, problems and possible solutions — with the U.S. senator. Zehri said he is hoping that Sinema takes that message back to Washington.
Sinema’s visit will include a brief meet-and-greet with elected officials from Mohave County before the afternoon meeting with the coalition.
Her “homework” includes a to-do list. Among them: encouraging creation of health coalitions in Arizona’s other 14 counties, declaring mental health a national medical emergency, helping secure funding for residency programs at rural hospitals and funding for upgrading equipment at rural hospitals.
“We need some help from the federal government,” Zehri said. He noted that area hospitals lack modern equipment; some important apparatuses are more than 20 years old and aren’t compatible with new technology.
“We’re like 20 or 30 years behind,” he said.
He said there are 87 million Americans who live in census-defined rural areas. A majority of them are underserved.
“We pay the same Medicare, the same taxes, as people who live in urban areas,” he said. “Why are we getting less than them?”
He said the coalition’s goal of improving health care in the region relies on community involvement.
“Right now, the health care system is controlled by hospitals, physicians, pharmaceutical companies and politicians — both in Phoenix and Washington,” he said. “I want the community — you and I — to have a say in our health care. We want the community to be part of the health care system.”
He said that mantra has been received well locally.
“I’m really happy for all the support from the hospitals, from the community,” he said, noting that the coalition has representatives from Kingman, Lake Havasu City, Bullhead City and Fort Mohave, both from within the health care industry and outside it.
He said Sinema’s visit is just one step in a long process to effect change in the rural health care system.
“Nothing is going to happen overnight,” he said. “But nothing is ever going to happen unless we try to make it happen. Health care is very personal, very complicated. It’s going to take time.”