This blog post is part of Ogden Clinic’s Health Inspired, Life Inspired series. Health Inspired, Life Inspired highlights physicians who serve their communities in diverse ways.
Ray Ward’s ties to Davis County run deep. In fact, his ancestor Israel Barlow was in the first group of Mormon pioneers to settle in Bountiful in 1847. A graduate of Woods Cross High School, Ray earned his undergraduate education from BYU and his Medical Doctorate from University of Washington. He returned to his hometown in 2004 and has been practicing medicine in Bountiful ever since.
But most people in Utah know Ray Ward for another reason: he’s been a Representative of the Utah State Legislature since 2015. 2018 marks Ray’s 4th consecutive session. What motivated this family physician to take on a role in Utah’s government? How does he find a balance between two very important jobs? And what are some changes he’d like to see in our state this year?
Healthcare at the Heart
A family physician for nearly two decades, many of the issues that Dr. Ward addresses in the legislature reflect his first-hand experiences in the community and his clinic. Dr. Ward has proposed several bills related to clean air, contraception, and Utah’s opioid epidemic.
Utah’s Opioid Epidemic
Dr. Ward is at the forefront of Utah’s opiate problem; he’s one of the few physicians in the area treating patients who have narcotic dependence. This population is often stigmatized as “high risk” or “drug seekers” and addressing drug dependence is not an easy task.
In the 2017 session, his top priority was fighting back against the opioid epidemic by moving toward safer narcotic-prescribing rules. Progress has been made in the legislature, but Dr. Ward continues to stress importance of awareness. “There’s a big change that needs to occur among healthcare providers. We need to understand how addicting these medications are and monitor their usage very closely,” he says.
Contraception Availability and Education
Dr. Ward is pitching an idea he believes will lower healthcare costs and lead to fewer unplanned pregnancies: providing free and low-cost birth control for low-income women in Utah. States that have expanded birth control access, such as Colorado, have seen a decline in both unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Colorado saved nearly $70 million in state and federal money and cut teen abortion rates in half by providing 36,000 low-income women long-acting birth control.
In a second bill related to contraception, Dr. Ward is also pushing for discussion of long-acting reversible contraception (or LARC) in public education curriculums. House Bill 232 seeks to repeal a provision in the state law and school board rule that prohibits “the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods.” Dr. Ward says “I have heard from so many teachers that said they are afraid to talk about contraceptives because there’s a fine line between education and advocacy.” He adds that it costs $90 for a patient to visit a clinic to learn about contraception options. “It shouldn’t cost that much to get education.”
“I see on an every-day basis the difficulty that people have affording insurance coverage; then getting the medical services they need even after they have the insurance coverage,” says Dr. Ward. For years, he has supported expanding coverage so that a plan exists to get basic healthcare services to everyone in our state, especially those under the poverty level. “The Trump administration has opened up some possibilities that weren’t available under the Obama administration and I’m hoping we might see some progress during the 2018 legislature,” he adds.
Utah’s unique geography paired with the temperature and the pollution we create causes an unhealthy inversion in the winter. “I can see the effects on people’s health in my clinic if we have a stretch of bad air, and I believe it is important to do things to make our air better,” says Dr. Ward. There are many things individuals and the community can do to improve air quality. His top priority is getting local refineries to move to production of Tier III gasoline.
A Voice for the Community
Just as Dr. Ward believes healthcare should be accessible for everyone, he also encourages the community to have an active voice here in Utah. He posts Town Hall meetings and agendas on his Facebook page and invites his constituents to come. He’s even hosted conversations at his home and invited Davis County residents to contribute! Find Dr. Ward’s next discussion and/or event on his Facebook page.
Service and community involvement have been a part of Ray’s life for many years. He’s been involved in numerous county projects and played a big role in Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah Plan. For several months, he brought attention to Healthy Utah and fostered support from the community and the legislature.
In 2014, Dr. Ward found out that the fellow in the seat before him was not going to run again. He took a chance and ran for that seat and—somewhat to his surprise—he won!
Finding a Balance
How does Ray Ward balance his two important roles? For six weeks during the legislative session, he doesn’t see patients in clinic. Occasionally he will drop by his office at Cope Family Medicine | Ogden Clinic to answer phone messages and take care of refill requests. The rest of the year, Dr. Ward practices full-time as a family medicine doctor but he still takes part in projects related to the legislature. “It’s a lot to balance, but has worked out pretty well—at least so far,” he says.
Ray Ward is currently serving in the 2018 Utah Legislature. He will return to his practice as a Family Medicine Physician later this month.