Working group addresses healthcare access

Updated: 6 days ago

By Deneece Ferrales


After a brief hiatus, a newly branded Access to Healthcare Working Group met Nov. 4. Over 30 people representing a wide variety of healthcare, nonprofit, and educational organizations attended. The purpose of the group is to address the ability of everyone in our community to be able to access needed healthcare in a timely manner.

The group not only addresses this from the healthcare side but also considers the need to address social determinants of health and equity issues. The group is examining access to both physical and behavioral healthcare.


The chair of the group is Heather Travers, health services director of McLennan County Indigent Health Care. Heather became interested in healthcare access after noticing the issues that many of the patients receiving indigent healthcare encountered when trying to schedule appointments, get transportation to appointments, find healthcare in a timely manner, and other issues of access and equity.


Due to these issues, Heather’s staff acted as casemanagers in many cases to assist patients with scheduling appointments, finding transportation, following-up with prescription medications, and many other tasks above and beyond the scope of eligibility specialists.


Heather has worked in her current position since March 2020. Prior to that, she worked as a program director for a specialized contract mental health program at Heart of Texas Region MHMR, so she had the opportunity to see some of the behavioral healthcare access issues that her clients encountered.


The new working group began by discussing data around visits with primary care physicians. In 2018, over one-fourth of Waco residents had not seen a physician for any type of routine services for more than a year, indicating that many residents do not have a primary care physician or a “medical home.”


The problem becomes particularly prevalent in certain ZIP codes that include many lower income and Black and Hispanic residents. The problem not only puts residents at risk but also taxes the system because not accessing regular healthcare services often leads to undiagnosed problems that grow bigger -- leading to urgent care including trips to the emergency room. This causes a strain on healthcare resources and often a financial strain on healthcare delivery systems.


The following graph illustrates the percentage of Waco and McLennan County residents who have seen a primary care physician within a year, and the bullets underneath give the percentages for the most affected ZIP codes.


When broken down by ZIP code and census tract, the problem becomes more glaring.

  • 76701, Track #1: only 66.6% of adults had a routine checkup in the past year

  • 76705, Track #33: only 65.9% of adults had a routine checkup in the past year

  • 76706, Track #2: only 66.5% of adults had a routine checkup in the past year

  • 76798, Track #3: only 66.3% of adults had a routine checkup in the past year

The Access to Healthcare Working Group decided to address this problem in two ways. First, the group is working on a pamphlet to be distributed at emergency rooms, urgent care facilities, crisis centers, and other locations where residents access urgent healthcare. The pamphlet will include the rationale behind finding a primary care physician, community resources, and a step-by-step guide to establish oneself as a patient. This project was introduced by Cindy Murphey of the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, and she will provide ongoing leadership for the project.


The second way the group plans to address the issue is through making health screenings more available in communities where health equity is an issue. This will be done by coupling food distributions with health screenings and/or health fairs. The first such event, Christmas on Memorial, will be 4-7 p.m. Dec. 7 at Family of Faith Worship Center, 4112 Memorial Dr.


Thanks to the leadership of Pastor Ruben Andrade, this event will include not only physical and behavioral health screenings, a health fair, and food distribution, but will also include Christmas events such as gifts for kids, bicycle raffles, door prizes, kids activities, and a visit from Santa.


Ascension Healthcare will provide physical health screenings and Heart of Texas Region MHMR will provide behavioral health screenings. There will also be health insurance providers who can determine eligibility on-site.


For more information about this event or to sign up for a table at the event, please contact deneece@prosperwaco.org. Flyers are available to distribute to client populations.


Access to Healthcare has plans to address other access issues in the coming year. If you are interested in being a part of that working group, please contact deneece@prosperwaco.org.


Deneece Ferrales, Ph.D., is director of health initiatives with Prosper Waco.