Along with the state’s continuing support of public education, state Rep. Hurchel E. “Trey” Caldwell, R-Dist. 63, also focuses on adequate rural hospital access and supporting veterans in southwest Oklahoma.
Caldwell, a fifth-generation resident of southwest Oklaho- ma, is also an insurance agent for Farm Bureau and financial adviser for Farm Bureau Financial Services; he owns a registered Angus cattle company with farming and ranching operations in Comanche County and runs a custom hay-cutting and baling service he began when he was 16 years old.
After graduating from Lawton’s MacArthur High School, Caldwell attended Oklahoma City University and Southern Nazarene University before earning his degree in Finance from Cameron. During his time at Cameron, he was involved with Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature, a mock government that allows college students across the state to get a better understanding of policies and procedures. He then worked on a few political campaigns, including 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“Two of the biggest issues facing rural southwest Oklahoma today are the lack of adequate quality health services and the flight of our best and brightest to metropolitan areas,” he said. “I think the two can work in tandem.”
The lack of healthcare facilities in rural southwest Oklahoma has been an issue for those living in smaller communities since the closure of many rural hospitals. Those closures became more of a challenge to those who are on state-funded programs such as SoonerCare, which is not accepted in other states.
After performing an interim study on healthcare in rural areas Caldwell and others found a multitude of reasons why hospitals fail, citing profit/loss management and population shift as two of the most common issues.
“Not every hospital is going to be profitable; some will have to be run as a loss, so people have access to healthcare,” said Caldwell. But “the predominate reason [for rural hospital fail- ure] is the population shift. Rural communities “don’t have the patient population to sustain a hospital. So, the feds have come in and established [the Critical Access program], and it works great. But there are some issues with how you qualify.”
As an alternative to their nearest medical facilities in Texas, many southwestern Oklahomans must travel to Altus or Lawton. Caldwell and others “worked and advocated with the feds for two years to get an exemption,” he said.
“They haven’t done it yet. So, I think, our next task is to try to establish an Oklahoma Critical Access Program, which would cover certain losses and make it more economical for a company to come in while keeping emergency services and hospitals open in towns like Frederick and Hollis.
“Hollis and Waurika have the federal Critical Access designation so they can stay open; but Pauls Valley, Wilburton, Frederick and one other hospital in northwest Oklahoma have been on the chopping block and we’ve lost those hospitals. We need to get those hospitals back open because those communities need access to emergency care.”
The exodus of Oklahoma’s educators continues to be a problem for the state, Caldwell believes the rate is slowing. He attributes that to the importance of education.
“While we continue to lose our best and brightest school- teachers to Texas, Kansas and Arkansas where they can make more money, I think we’ve started to alleviate that problem,” he said.
When “draconian cuts to a lot of agencies” were made earlier this year, Caldwell and other legislators ensured education was held harmless.
“If you count in the CARES funding from the federal level, the 4% cut in state appropriation that was covered by federal CARES money went directly to public education. We didn’t want to lose the gains that we fought for the last two or three years.”
Understanding the impact veterans have on southwest Oklahoma, Caldwell is also working to reintroduce the excise tax exemption for disabled veterans, provide homestead exemptions to our 100% disabled vets and ensure veterans in nursing homes receive proper care.
“Veterans have all kinds of options once they get out of the service,” he said. “We want them to settle right here in southwest Oklahoma.
Until recently, veterans who “bought a vehicle, every three years they could have an exemption on the excise tax,” said Caldwell. “That went away, and I’d like to see it come back so we can retain our veterans who retire at Fort Sill.
Caldwell stated that the homestead exemption would best benefit veterans of four counties in Oklahoma, two of which are Jackson and Comanche County.
“Basically, the brunt of that financial responsibility through that exemption is laid upon the counties and the cities,” he stated. “I’d love to see that – along with the state – come back and reimburse the counties at a certain percentage of that exempted dollar.
“That is something Senator John Michael Montgomery have been working on for the past two years,” he stated. “We haven’t gotten it across the finish line, but we continue to work on it.”
Veterans “are valuable members of our community,” he stated. “A lot of them retire at 40 to 45 years old, and many of them pursue second careers that lasts about 20 years. We need them in our community.”
Looking ahead, Caldwell sees positive changes for southwest Oklahoma, goals he believes can be accomplished.
“There’s going to be little issues along the way,” he said. “But if we could see a hospital open back up in Frederick, have another factory move into Lawton or Frederick and expand the industrial base to bring outside money into the community, reach a point in funding for education where we’re number one in our region and we’re able to retain the best and brightest teachers, those would be great things. Those are all little tangible successes that predominately rely on our public education. It all starts back with having a good foundation for our next generation.”