Medical officials: Transit tax hike a boost to health

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Top Detroit area health officials and doctors touted Monday the proposed tax increase millage that would bolster transit options in a region where many depend on buses to get care or a medical job.

Improved mass transit is critical to the region’s hospitals and health care providers in part because their patients often miss doctor’s appointments for a lack of quality transportation, medical experts said.

So far this year, 19,000 of 34,000 Henry Ford Health System patients missed appointments and cited lack of transportation as the main culprit, said Bob Riney, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Detroit’s based system.

“It validated what we had always surmised. It’s not about a missed appointment but it’s about what happens when they miss that appointment because they are not getting taken care of,” Riney said. “That’s bad for them, it’s bad for a healthy community.”

The event was one of several being pitched by Citizens for Connecting our Communities, or C3, a registered ballot committee that wants voters in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties to approve the 20-year, 1.2-mill property tax to fund regional transit.

The Regional Transit Authority’s $4.6-billion-dollar proposal would bring bus rapid transit, a rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit, an airport shuttle service, a regional fare card system and other service improvements. The 20-year millage would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $120 annually.

Elliott Attisha, a pediatrician at the Henry Ford Health System and Children’s Health Project of Detroit, said he’s seen firsthand how much the lack of transit can affect children’s health, especially when parents can’t get their kids to the doctor.

“Take, for example, a 4-year-old who prior to being seen by a clinic had never received a single physical, and only had one vaccine since birth,” Attisha said.

Attisha paused during the Monday news conference held at the Eastern Market when he recalled a story of trying to measure the breath of another child but couldn’t.

“Detroit’s children face enough challenges,” he said. “Access to health services should not be one of them. We must insure that transportation will never hinder a child’s access to health services.”

Jean Meyer, the president and CEO of St. John Providence Heath System, said that although she understands that some voters may be opposed paying more taxes, the success of Detroit and an improved transit system is critical to the region.

“Detroit has got to sustain and thrive,” Meyer said. “And I think if Detroit doesn’t thrive, it’s going to impact all the suburbs around it.”


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