Traffic congestion is a health hazard

Community healthcare could be the answer to that

MASSACHUSETTS’ TRAFFIC CONGESTION causes stress and financial strain for commuters, but it can also be bad for their health — especially when clogged roads become a barrier to getting quality healthcare. 

A MassInc survey released in April found that 63 percent of Massachusetts voters “say they have felt stressed, angry or frustrated” with traffic. Last year, Boston suffered the worst gridlock during peak commuting hours of any major metro area in the country, according to the Inrix 2018 Traffic Scorecard Report 

This problem is particularly bad for South Coast commuters, who can only get to Boston by bus or car. Work is finally underway to extend the South Coast Rail from Boston to New Bedford and Fall River, and we are grateful, but the project won’t be completed until 2023. 

In the meantime, commutes take an ever-growing bite out of the day. On a good day, the bus from the South Coast to Boston takes on average two hours, depending on the time of day — if there’s a car crash, road construction or a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, all bets are off. 

I sympathize with my fellow South Coast residents who must travel to Boston-area jobs or schools. But it could be even worse. Imagine if you had cancer and had to travel to Boston five days a week for a 30-day course of radiation. Or if you needed cardiac bypass surgery and your surgeon practiced only at a Boston hospital, forcing you to choose between being near your doctor in case of complications or being near your loved ones. Or if you had knee replacement surgery and you had to navigate Boston traffic for your follow-up visits. 

In such cases, clogged highways are not just inconvenient, they are a threat to one’s health and access to care. Many patients cannot afford time off from work to get to medical appointments in Boston. Those who cannot drive themselves may not have friends or family members who can bring them − although securing a ride is no guarantee of making an appointment. More than half of respondents to the MassInc survey blamed traffic for making them late for work or appointments. 

That is why investing in quality, community-based healthcare is essential. The more patients can rely on these close-to-home providers, the less they have to travel clogged roads to Boston, contributing to traffic while imperiling their own health and adding to the stress of what may already be a difficult time. 

Proximity is not enough of an incentive for a patient in need of life-saving treatment. Community hospitals and healthcare groups across the Commonwealth can and must uphold the same standards of care as the nation’s finest medical centers.  

Over the past two decades, Southcoast Health has built a not-for-profit health system that serves the more than 700,000 people of Southeastern Massachusetts. Residents rely on us to deliver everything from preventive care and smoking cessation support to sophisticated cardiac interventions, cancer treatments and trials, and neurosurgery.  

Fortunately, we recruit physicians and surgeons from top hospitals around the country. They are drawn by the South Coast’s charms — its history, culture, natural beauty, uncrowded beaches and distinctive housing stock at good prices. But they also want to practice in a system that is willing to invest in being the best. 

As a result, Southcoast is now the largest employer in the region, creating good jobs that help our local economy. Southcoast leverages this success by reinvesting in our community. We provide our patients with the best services, programs, providers, technologies and facilities, such as a best-in-class heart and vascular center, cancer care centers offering a full range of sophisticated services from screenings to clinical trials, and 7D Surgical Machine-vision Image Guided Surgery technology, which provides highly detailed three-dimensional images to guide surgeons during spinal procedures.  

We invest beyond our walls, as well. Through collaborations with local leaders and nonprofit organizations, we work to promote a culture of health and wellness by identifying community issues − such as obesity, opioid addiction, suicide and homelessness − and helping to address their root causes. 

We have seen firsthand on the South Coast that if a community healthcare organization can provide access to the highest quality care close to a patient’s home and family – without the time and stress of a commute to Boston – patients and the broader community benefit.  

We can make traffic congestion less of a health hazard for those of us who live beyond Greater Boston by continuing to invest in the lifesaving and life-enhancing care offered by community-based health systems. All patients, regardless of geography and life circumstances, deserve the best available healthcare.  

Keith A. Hovan is President and Chief Executive Officer of Southcoast Health System, Inc. and its subsidiary, Southcoast Hospitals Group, Inc. Keith serves as President of the National Association of Safety Net Hospitals, and on the American Hospital Association Regional Policy Board for Region 1. 


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