Poor transportation, poor health care
BY SHANNON MUCHMORE World Staff Writer
Sunday, October 02, 2011
10/03/11 at 4:10 AM
Related Story: Rural Oklahoma health-care needs underserved, areas lack specialists
If it weren't for Morton Comprehensive Health Service's in-house transportation system, Australia Hopson probably just wouldn't go to the doctor.
The 97-year-old is too arthritic to drive and doesn't have many family members or friends available to take her to appointments.
"I really don't know what in the world I'd do," Hopson said, shaking her head.
Few medical practices have transportation options like Morton, however, and even for Oklahomans who have insurance, having a doctor to see isn't always enough. Sometimes just getting to the office is the biggest roadblock to seeking health care.
In Tulsa, those who don't have a car often must spend a couple of hours riding the bus, switching routes several times. They usually have to take off work just to get to an appointment, health officials and social workers said.
Even for those who are close to their doctor's office - which is rare in north, west or east Tulsa - walking is often difficult if not impossible thanks to busy streets without traffic control and a lack of sidewalks.
Tulsa is one of the least walkable of the 50 largest cities in the nation, and more than half of Tulsa residents live in a neighborhood that is car-dependent, according to Walk Score, which rates the walkability of cities.
Willder Dillingham, transportation director at Morton, said about 75 percent of patients use the company's transit system, which runs Monday through Friday during business hours.
Curtis Black, riding on one of the buses on a recent afternoon, said he doesn't have a car and the city's bus system doesn't work for him.
"It doesn't go where I want to go or when I want to go," he said.
For Susan Clark, riding the city transit system would mean crossing a busy street, which is too dangerous. Clark has been disabled for about three years.
She can't drive because of her disability. She sometimes uses Tulsa Transit's Lift program for people who have disabilities, which goes to her door. She is grateful for the service, but the wait for the return trip can be up to an hour and a half, she said.
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has a transportation program for those on Medicaid, but it has limits and doesn't reach rural areas.
When people can't get to the doctor, their health problems can worsen and become a medical emergency, which costs the health-care system more, said James Hess, chief operating officer of the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.
"You have to kind of look at it as pay me now or pay me later," he said. "Those patients are going to end up somewhere."
People in rural areas often have to drive hundreds of miles to get to a specialist, and when one is needed, they sometimes decide it's not worth the time or hassle, said Kayse Shrum, provost of OSU's Center for Health Sciences.
Whether driving across the state or taking the bus a few miles in town, those working hourly or temporary jobs often find the long commute time can be too difficult to schedule, she said.
"They can't afford to miss a day of work," Shrum said.
Original Print Headline: Poor transportation, poor care
Shannon Muchmore 918-581-8378
Bus driver Otis Willis helps patient Australia Hopson get on the bus that will take her to Morton Health Services. Without adequate public transportation options, many people have trouble getting to the doctor's office. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World