Diving into the lack of health care resources in Tulare County

Published on
April 18, 2011

My two articles (I was originally writing three, but ended up with two lengthy articles) for the Fellowship were definitely acquired through an illuminating process.

Over and over I encountered heads of medical institutions in the area who gave me their polished spin on why there weren't enough physicians in the area and why our huge Medi-Cal population wasn't being served. The two are intertwined as not having enough doctors/resources for the privately insured means that the physicians who DO live here will flock to the patients who pay. Which are not Medi-Cal patients.

There is no list stating which doctors take Medi-Cal, and which ones don't. I ended up calling every doctor and clinic in the county to find out, and that was actually a great idea because during those calls I discovered two doctors who wanted to talk about the situation. Doctors who will talk about the lack of medical competition in Tulare County are far and few between, as they are all scared of what one doctor called the "behemoth" hospital in Visalia, Kaweah Delta Health Care District.

For my Medi-Cal story, finding patients who had experienced the inefficiencies and deficiencies of the system was easy, once I finally did it. Which was to sit in the waiting room of one of the local low-cost clinics and just talk to people. I was looking for a specific type of person, someone who wasn't suffering from a disease that was caused by lifestyle. Our county residents are quick to judge the poor as bringing everything upon themselves. So I found a woman who has Hodgkins' Lymphoma (a genetic disorder that strikes regardless of social status) and another woman who had been in a vehicle collision.

Finding the numbers for the Medi-Cal population and licensed physicians also turned out to be easier than expected (with the exception of the afore-mentioned list of Medi-Cal providers) with the help of the California Department of Public Health.

Overall, I found that interviewing a multitude of sources - some of which didn't even get included - and searching for the numbers revealed a lot. Tulare County has more of its population on MediCal than any other county, and we are one of the most-densely populated counties to have as few doctors as we do. It made for two great stories, and I couldn't have done it without a team of supportive editors and my senior fellow, Mary Agnes Carey, cheering me on the whole way.