EMERGENCY EXIT - A Healthcare Story from West Virginia

Upon arrival to an accident, firefighters are taught to wait for their incident commander to get a quick assessment of the situation, get their safety gear on (“donning” in fireman lingo), and then jump directly into their rolls such as lineman, the one who leads the charge with the hose.

The day before the West Virginia Insulin Caravan, Roxy Vasil, age 17, was donning his Personal Protective Equipment (PPE - the jacket and pants firefighters wear) and his Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA).  Roxy was taking his practical skills test for Hazmat Awareness and Standards of Procedures training.  Roxy joined the Cheat Lake Volunteer Fire Department back in March of 2019 and has been enjoying his time there with the goal of “giving back and serving the community.”  When he joined the bus to head to Canada, Roxy did the smart thing and went to the back of the bus, taking a seat next to three emergency exits within arm’s reach. That way he could best help if there was an accident.

Roxy on the right in part of his Class C from hazmat training.

According to Roxy, his interests for volunteer fire fighting started when “the guys came to our school and seemed pretty cool.”  (Note to other volunteer organizations: if you want the young adults to serve you might want to seem “pretty cool.”)  As a then Junior, now Senior at Morgantown High School, Roxy maintains a 3.8 GPA, serves his community, and works when he can at three part-time/seasonal jobs.  He just says, “I like to work.” His mother, Maggie, says she encourages her son, “to stay active and stay out of trouble,” and her encouragement seems to be working!  Roxy hopes his academic success, work ethic, and his volunteer fire department record will help him achieve his goal of attending WVU, hopefully with a Promise Scholarship, where he plans to use his skills -“I’m pretty good with people and selling things” - to study business administration.

With all of these activities in mind, his PPE is not the only thing Roxy dons as far as personal protective equipment.  One of the vital components to Roxy’s daily living is the insulin medication he carries, along with snacks, to properly manage his Type I Diabetes.  Diagnosed at the age of six, after a movie theater trip that had over five-bathroom breaks in 20 minutes, Maggie contacted a friend who was a registered nurse who encouraged them to go get a glucose testing strip.  The next day Roxy and Maggie were at the doctor’s office “learning how to take care of his condition.”

Over the past 10 years treatments have come a long way but every now and then Maggie does worry that without insulin and medication Roxy could die, “Scary actually is what it is.  We’ve looked into dual-citizenship to see if we could.”  They have relatives from Ireland and “we dwell in possibility” of the potential consequences of Roxy not having his life-saving medication.

Maggie and her son Roxy at Niagara Falls, Canada

Mother and son went on the caravan trip to Niagara Falls to check out the prices for the insulin medication Roxy needs; they did not purchase medications there as they had recently filled prescriptions for him.  Compared to the prices of the drugs at the local pharmacy, they calculated the savings they could get in Canada and plan on making a trip in a few months. 

Two other West Virginians who rode on the caravan were able to save over $600 collectively on their three-month supplies of insulin.  When Adrian Olmstead, of Morgantown, WV was being interviewed by media outlets you could see her raw emotions come through when she talked about the burden being lifted, “For three months, I don’t have to worry about going to see the doctor, going to the pharmacy, worrying that my prescription will expire.  I have a supply that will last for three months, this is the most insulin I’ve had in my possession in my entire life.”  She was diagnosed at age 11 with Type I Diabetes and has lived with this condition for 34 years.

Judy Alexander is a retired from the health care industry, who joined the caravan as a Type I Diabetic, and she is one of the many elderly West Virginians who has emptied out their retirement savings to pay for life-saving medications.  Saving around $440, Judy continually expressed joy and gratitude for the trip.

Patients and advocates understand that insulin is not the only prescription drug which bankrupts Americans and makes life even harder in the mountain state. Elderly adults clean out their life savings, adults ration medications to save money, and small business owners agonize over the cost of providing health insurance with prescription drug coverage to their workers.

Emergency Exit sign on bus with Niagara Falls in background.

It seems as if we are heading into 2020 on a bus without any emergency exits within arm’s reach.  As we hear how Roxy has successfully passed his Fire Fighter 1 course and is prepared to serve his community and citizens of this great state, let’s be like Roxy and be willing to volunteer to sound the alarm and fight, not the fire of someone’s home, but the fire of rising prescription drug costs.  We can win this fight in our state legislature if we join together as a team to make this issue a priority for our law-makers.

We can advocate for capped insulin prices to ensure West Virginians can take care of themselves in our communities.  We can advocate for paid family and medical leave for West Virginia workers so they can care for their families then feel relieved to go back to work in our local businesses across the state. We can protect low-income pregnant women who need more than just 60 days of post-partum care for themselves as they continue to nourish the early childhood development of their offspring.  These are all items on the West Virginia Health Agenda 2020 which are our doors to – our emergency exits – for working families.

Roxy sharing his personal story, “That’s 750 bucks right there” prior to taking his insulin.

If you are a West Virginian who wants to share their health care story, high premium costs, insulin prescription costs, lack of health insurance, issues with accessing healthcare, or if you have pre-existing conditions and your health care might be under threat by the Texas vs. Azar federal court case, reach out to us.  Join a growing group of citizens and legislators who are working daily to protect our state and our people.  Reach out to us at info@wvahc.org if you are interested in joining people like Roxy, Adrian, and Judy to fight the good fight.

West Virginians Together for Medicaid