Access Denied

ER shot.png

Patient #1 has a hernia — nothing serious, not life threatening, just a pain.
Patient #2 has the exact same problem, exact same condition.

But the difference in the health care each patient receives is worlds apart and tells the real story of what happens when someone doesn’t have access to health services in Texas.

I’m Patient #1. Turns out, all the lifting and moving and pulling carpet during the 2015 Memorial Day floods came with a parting gift — a small hernia. There was little pain, little medical concern, but it had to be repaired. I visited my primary care doctor and then a surgeon. The repair was fairly simple: just pick a convenient day for outpatient surgery and the surgeon would take care of it. Insurance would pick up most of the tab, and I’d be all better in a few weeks.

No one is “excited” for surgery, but it wasn’t a big worry. Yet, all I could think of was how different the same problem was for Patient #2.

For 13 years, I was the investigative producer at KPRC-TV in Houston. During that time, one of my most memorable healthcare stories in Houston looked into the long wait times for medical care for those who didn’t have health insurance.

Patient #2 had a hernia, but didn’t have health insurance and he happened to be homeless. He didn’t see a primary care doctor when his hernia was small. Instead, he went to the ER months later when his hernia was the size of a softball.

Because the hernia wasn’t life threatening, it wasn’t immediately repaired. Patient #2 started the process of being entered into the county’s safety-net hospital system.

And his hernia got larger.

Back in 2006, the average wait time just to get an appointment with a surgeon in the Harris County safety-net system was six months to a year. When the hernia started hurting and bothering him, Patient #2 went back to the ER. He heard the same story: not life threatening, wait to see a surgeon.

And his hernia got larger.

By the time I saw pictures of Patient #2, I’m not sure how long his wait had been, but his hernia was the size of a basketball. His case was profiled in the investigative story (click to watch).

I set up surgery at my convenience and had pain medicines waiting when I got home to recover.  Follow-up appointments with my doctor were automatically scheduled. Patient #2 played the painful waiting game – again and again.

Health is so many different things to so many different people. But when you can’t get access to basic health services, any definition of health is a world away. For millions across Texas like Patient #2, it’s continues to be a simple story of the “haves” and the “have not’s”. It seems little or nothing has changed for the uninsured.

Increasing access to health services is a key strategy in EHF’s plan to help transform community health across Texas. This is just one story of what happens if access is denied.  It can literally become the difference between life and death.

One condition.
Two very different stories of care.
ZERO reasons for the system NOT to change.