Two South Side physicians and a City Council member say the area needs more health care services, health literacy and web access.
All these tools are instrumental in fighting prevalent chronic illnesses and better addressing the ongoing pandemic and its impact, they said during a Nov. 12 panel discussion, “The Infinite Crisis: Healthcare on the South Side.”
District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran teamed with Dr. Lyssa Ochoa, founder of San Antonio Vascular and Endovascular, and Dr. Rajeev Narayan of San Antonio Kidney. The virtual discussion was part of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s Feel Good Festival.
Narayan, a nephrologist, said many South Siders “live paycheck to paycheck” and are underinsured or have no health insurance.
District 3 is home to about 168,000 people, 31,000 of whom are uninsured.
Narayan said such cost-burdened individuals are reluctant to leave work or find time to regularly visit primary physicians or specialists to treat chronic maladies, such as diabetes, vascular disease, hypertension or kidney disease.
He added, “It’s very hard for them to do that as well as afford medications, and when health care problems become more significant, these patients may end up losing their job or losing their insurance, so it dramatically affects their access to care.”
Diabetes, according to Ochoa, exists at “a profound level,” which falls disproportionately on Hispanics, especially in the urban core and across the South Side.
San Antonio Metropolitan Health District data reveals more than 14% of Bexar County residents are diagnosed diabetics.
“But, I can tell you that in ZIP codes on the South Side, that percentage is a lot higher,” Ochoa said.
Ochoa said she often treats diabetics who suffer additional problems, such as amputations, blindness, heart attacks, strokes and a need for dialysis.
“That challenge — how do we manage diabetes and prevent those complications from happening — is very important,” she added.
Ochoa said it’s one thing to help patients understand what diabetes is and how it affects their body, but another to educate those at risk of developing the disease.
“We need to start way up front so we can prevent (diabetes) from getting there,” she noted.
“Some kind of educational effort to decreasing carbohydrates and increasing exercise will do dramatic things to decrease the incidents of diabetes and its complications,” Narayan said.
Healthy outcomes, Ochoa said, tend to be tied to locales and clinical-care access.
According to the doctor, public and private sectors could bolster resources across the South Side to improve residents’ health literacy and access to health care services, including getting more general practitioners in the area.
Ochoa opened the SAVE Clinic at 4025 E. Southcross Blvd. in 2018 to serve residents who long have had little access to health care choices over the years.
“We have deficit of over 150 primary health care doctors on the South Side,” she added.
The region has only two full-fledged, stand-alone hospitals: Mission Trail Baptist and Southwest General, but the panelists said more services are sought locally.
SAVE Clinic plans to open the 10,500-square-foot Mission Surgery Center at 601 E. Amber St. in spring 2021, launching the South Side’s first Medicare-accredited ambulatory surgery center.
The University of the Incarnate Word also intends to extend its South Side academic medical offerings.
UIW bought seven buildings at Brooks to accommodate more health-professions programs. The university’s School of Osteopathic Medicine currently occupies four structures.
In addition, the speakers urged Texas leaders to consider escalating Medicare and Medicaid during the 2021 legislative session.
“As a state, we’re leaving millions of dollars on the table, and we’re putting people’s lives at stake, too, without that expansion here,” Viagran said.
The panelists also agreed more digital access would help South Siders who cannot consult with a physician during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To get a patient to do telemedicine takes a skill. It’s not easy,” Ochoa said.
As a result, she added, early in the coronavirus outbreak many showed signs of delayed critical care.
“Now I’m seeing them in the emergency room or my clinic, and my option now is to send them to the hospital because they’re so sick,” she said.
The Chamber tentatively plans a follow-up health care panel and luncheon in January at Brooks, with COVID-19 protocols included.