Q&A: Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry advocates for rural health, expanded broadband
Assemblymember Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry represents California’s 4th Assembly District, which includes all or parts of Napa, Lake, Yolo, Sonoma, Colusa and Solano counties. Before being elected in 2016, she was active in her hometown of Winters as a regional leader. She served as planning commissioner, on the city council and then as the first female mayor of Winters. Aguiar-Curry is on the Committee of Health. She is also chair of the Local Government Committee. In this Q&A, Aguiar-Curry shares her passion for rural health care, telehealth and high-quality broadband for all.
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Shawna De La Rosa: What prompted your interest in rural health care?
Asm. Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry: “Growing up, I lived next door to the country doctor, Dr. Ernie Young. He was always talking about medical stuff. In the evenings, when he and his family would go to dinner, they would stretch their phone line across our fence and we would answer the phone for him.
I’ve always been interested in improving rural health care because it’s really difficult to make available. Doctors will come out to our area for awhile, but if they are married, their wives may not like living out here. And they usually have big medical school bills. So they don’t tend to stay very long.
After the fires in my rural communities, we couldn’t get health care in the rural areas. The doctor offices had to close due to smoke damage or fire, so they erected pop-up tents to treat patients. But then they couldn’t get reimbursed because they weren’t treating patients in a brick and mortar facility.”
SD: What bills have you sponsored that address these issues?
CA-C: “I’m really proud of both the bills related to telehealth. The AB744 relates to telehealth and ensures people in poverty-affected rural areas still have access to health care. Also, the AB1494 Medi-Cal: Telehealth: State of Emergency Bill that allows for telehealth reimbursement as long as the COVID-19 state of emergency is in effect. I want to change that to make it permanent. I am one of the oldest members of the assembly and I feel like I have more vision in this area. I want to have health care options when I’m older.
Telemedicine is also about mental health. It’s so much easier for patients to make it to appointments if they can do it over a screen or a phone. Also, it allows for providers to treat patients from anywhere in the country. You can have a patient in California and a doctor in Florida. This helps because there is such a shortage of mental health providers.”
SD: How are you increasing rural access to pharmacies?
CA-C: “I did an increased access to pharmacy bill (AB 690) that is designed to help small pharmacies in our rural communities. They could have a satellite office that is 10 to 15 miles away from their main location and that gives residents more access. Some people have to drive an hour or an hour and half to get a prescription. A lot of elderly people don’t want to have to travel that far.”
SD: California is known for having areas that lack reliable internet access. How are you addressing this?
CA-C: “California doesn’t have internet for all. You need broadband for telehealth and distance learning. I’m reintroducing AB570 (which will be under a different number) on Dec. 7. It’s a plan to provide to $330 million for broadband to rural areas. Californians think they need to have the fastest WiFi ever, but when you look at the economies of scale it doesn’t pencil out for the big service providers to go out into the rural areas. But the people on the backroads need internet too. I want to bring good quality broadband to the rural communities at reasonable prices. California is tough because of its topography. The price and the availability are the two main issues. They keep talking about how great hot spots are, but if you have three kids trying to use one hot spot, see how well that works out for you.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.