IL: South suburban officials take long bus trip to illustrate difficulty of accessing health care

Catching a bus in the south suburbs may be easy, Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller said, but getting to some important destinations may be a bit harder.

So she took a bus journey Monday from near her home in Lynwood to illustrate the difficulties some public transportation users face.

Waiting for Pace Bus 358, Miller said she would like to take the bus to the county’s Blue Island Health Center.

Miller, D-Lynwood, said she wanted to highlight that while buses are a convenient mode of transportation, accessibility to important services, like health care, should be prioritized. Her trip took an hour and 45 minutes and required three bus routes, including a transfer from the second route to the third.

“It’s really showing the day and the life of a patient using Pace bus in the suburbs,” Miller said.

Pace’s “primary goal is to provide connectivity,” and the transportation company understands that some routes take a longer time, said spokeswoman Maggie Daly. Pace officials are frequently reviewing routes and working with community members to make improvements, she said.

Along for the ride were Chicago Heights 5th Ward Ald. George Brassea, Sauk Village Trustee Debra Williams, Cook County Health Board Director Robert Currie and Pace external relations manager Doug Sullivan.

“I’m here experiencing it myself and considering something new to propose potential changes,” Currie said.

The bus for route 358 arrived at the intersection of Torrence Avenue and Glenwood Dyer Road in Lynwood at 9:31 am The bus traveled through Sauk Village, South Chicago Heights, Steger and South Chicago Heights again.

Once in Chicago Heights, the bus stopped at 9:57 am at the Chicago Heights Terminal. At the terminal, Brassea pointed out to Sullivan the bus terminal did not have bike racks, and Sullivan said he noted the suggestion.

At 10 am, without having to get off the bus, the group continued its trip but the bus switched to route 352. When the bus crossed US 30, Williams pointed out that US 30 goes from Lynwood to Chicago Heights which would’ve been a more direct path to take.

“In seeing what we had to do to get there, it’s odd,” Williams said.

When the bus stopped at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, the group had been on the bus for about 40 minutes. Miller pointed out the Lynwood bus stop was an eight minute drive away.

The bus traveled through Glenwood and Homewood before stopping at the Harvey Transportation Center. The group got off the bus and waited about 15 minute for the connection to route 349.

At 10:46 am, the group left the Harvey Transportation Center and welcomed the air-conditioned climate of the new bus. They arrived the intersection of Gregory and Walnut streets in Blue Island at 11:04 am and had to walk about two blocks to get to the Blue Island Health Center.

The group toured the health center, and learned about its radiology, physical therapy, cardiology, behavioral health and pediatric services, among others.

Iliana Mora, chief administrative officer for Cook County Health’s Ambulatory Services, said the health system has a facility closer to Lynwood in Ford Heights, as well as one in Robbins, that offers specialized care for women, infants and children and well as dental and primary care.

The health system also has a fleet of vehicles that can take patients within Cook County to their medical appointments, Mora said. Patients can call 312-864-RIDE to schedule a trip, she said.

While the health center has facilities closer to Lynwood, Miller said she wanted to take a trip via public transportation to the Blue Island health center because it is the health system’s regional health center for the south suburbs.

After the bus ride to the health facility, Miller said it illustrated that logistics matter.

Officials said the health center, which opened about two years ago, offers many services and helps alleviate the patient load at Stroger Hospital in Chicago, “which is great, but there’s a but,” Miller said.

“What we saw was how many municipalities we went through,” Miller said. “I just wanted to highlight the struggles to get to the clinic.”

For example, while the walk from the final bus stop to the clinic wasn’t far, it would be difficult for someone who has a broken leg or isn’t feeling well, Miller said. Or, someone who needs health care may see how long it takes to get to the clinic and decide not to go, she said.

To address the issue of health care access, Miller said she will propose that the Cook County Board of Commissioners is “intentional about where clinics are.”

Currie said nobody should have to travel more than an hour for health care services. To address the issue, Currie said he’d like to look at the Pace bus schedule to see what alternatives could be possible.

“My expectations were confirmed,” Currie said.

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