Roadblocks to care

Seniors, residents with disabilities say a lack of medical transportation and long wait times for in-home services are issues in Santa Barbara County

Long waits for in-home supportive services and a lack of rural transportation services are some of the many issues Santa Barbara County’s residents with disabilities and senior citizens face on a regular basis. 

click to enlarge Roadblocks to care
Photo courtesy of Independent Living Resource Center
CARE CONNECTION: Community Information Coordinator Jerry Mihaic of the Independent Living Resource Center calls the organization one of the “best-kept secrets” in Santa Barbara, SLO, and Ventura counties.

A public health survey conducted by the Independent Living Resource Center (ILRC) outlined these realities through the responses of 86 anonymous people from SLO, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties. 

“Santa Barbara has a lot of good resources,” one participant wrote in the online survey. “Caregiving is difficult to access and there are long waiting periods for IHSS [in-home supportive services].”

“I have not yet had to use [local] resources,” another respondent wrote. “I am lucky to still be able to drive or have a partner/friend drive me. Otherwise, it would be tough as I live in a remote part of Santa Barbara.”

Covering three counties with 11 programs ranging from housing and peer support to being a resource center for the aging and people with disabilities, ILRC aims to help locals be as independent as possible. Essentially, the resource center was built by people with disabilities for others facing disabilities.

Resource center Public Health Advocate Emily Bridges told the Sun on Jan. 9 that she was prompted to conduct the study after what she noticed during her public health classes and research: “Disability has not been, honestly, thought of at all, aside from being more of an afterthought,” she said. “I created this study to do a needs assessment across all three counties on what people think about their health care concerns. … I wanted to bring it up to legislators and stakeholders and somehow inspire change.”

Bridges worked closely with ILRC Systems Change Coordinator Jacob Lesner-Buxton and Community Information Coordinator Jerry Mihaic on the study and identifying local issues prevalent in Santa Barbara and SLO counties, respectively. 

She said that some of the other specific issues that Santa Barbara County residents shared on the survey included that doctors didn’t want to learn about complex issues due to time constraints, that it was difficult to coordinate services with specialists at different offices, and that it was challenging to access caregivers.

Lesner-Buxton said that one of the biggest challenges faced by northern Santa Barbara County residents is access to health care transportation.

“Many specialists are based in the city of Santa Barbara. There is only one public bus per day that runs between North and South Santa Barbara County, meaning that people who use that option have to leave at 7 in the morning and return at 6 at night,” Lesner-Buxton told the Sun via email on Jan. 11. “While Medicare requires providers to make arrangements for transportation to patients for appointments, we have heard these rides are unreliable and some of the drivers are sketchy.”

In SLO County, residents said they also had trouble accessing caregiving and rural transportation services. In addition, said they had issues with being overlooked by physicians and insurance providers for their medical needs and felt the pinch of unaffordable housing issues. 

“Affordable senior housing in San Luis Obispo is almost nonexistent,” one survey participant wrote. “The closest community I have found is in Arroyo Grande, and I am currently on a wait-list.”

“I am now what they call ‘moteling,’” a survey respondent wrote. “Trying to get help paying for it. There are so many seniors and disabled at this motel, the Premier Inns where we stay mostly. This country has forgotten ‘The Greatest Generation that Ever Lived.’”

While affordable housing options may be in either North or South SLO County, many of the services are located in the city of SLO. 

Mihaic said that SLO County is unique because of how “retirement-friendly” it is due to the weather and small community size, but accessing health care becomes a serious issue. He added that that the level of care someone needs depends on how old they are.

“Especially for an older senior population because there are no doctors really who specialize in geriatric care,” Mihaic said. “But the county is doing some things with fall prevention, healthy brains initiative, dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

Bridges told the Sun that although senior residents from three different counties took part in the survey, the issues they said they faced were uniform. 

“There is an isolation and the need for ripple effect in terms of resources,” Bridges said. “People are honestly not aware that ILRC exists outside of our core consumers that we serve on a typical basis because people who use our services tend to drop off and come back as needed.”

Both Bridges and Mihaic called the resource center’s existence one of the “best-kept secrets.” 

“We want to change that, we want people to know about us and call us to get the right guidance to services they need,” Mihaic said. “We work closely with the 211 service to make sure all the information is updated as well.”

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal from the Sun’s sister paper, New Times, at [email protected].

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