Rio Vista's big shortage

Booming town has only one doctor

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

RIO VISTA - On the eastern edge of Solano County, where one road divides the town, is Rio Vista, a locale with 7,300 people and one physician.

He is Dr. Daniel Ferrick, a short man with square-rimmed glasses and perfectly combed hair who wears the typical white coat with a dangling stethoscope.

Ferrick keeps busy with his Monday-through-Friday schedule. Its normal for him to see seven patients by 10 a.m. and by days end, a total of 30.

He has been on this sort of routine for slightly more than a year and admits to liking it, although he says it would be 'nice' to have another doctor provide coverage during the weekends.

Ferrick doesnt see all 7,300 residents, though. He can only attend to a select group of patients in town, those belonging to Sutter Regional Medical Group. But they are enough to limit his lunch to a quick meal of yogurt and fruit.

And his facility on Main Street, which was once a bank, isnt meant for emergency care, specialty care or delivering babies, nor does it work as an after-hours clinic.

Instead, patients such as Fred Hern, an 87-year-old man with prostate cancer and diabetes, must drive the 40 minutes to Fairfield, even though he belongs to Sutter Regional.

Hern, a man with a quirky sense of humor, will at times make two trips a week into the bigger cities to see his doctors, driving the narrow 20-mile stretch on Highway 12, the only road into and out of Rio Vista.

'Id take my horse but that would be too dangerous for Highway 12 and I got rid of my roller-skates a long time ago,' he joked.

For the residents of Rio Vista, many of whom are seniors, medical access is limited. And with its expanding community an estimated population of 10,400 is expected by 2010, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments medical care is falling short.

'Im sure people go to other towns for their medical care. It depends on their insurance, too. There isnt a week that goes by that I have a patient who belongs somewhere else,' Ferrick said. 'But if all 7,000 people wanted to come here, I couldnt handle it. I just couldnt.'

Rural areas

Rural areas are known for having shortages of providers, limited access to services and struggle financially providing rural health and social services systems.

Rio Vista is no exception.

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which makes recommendations on issues affecting health and human services in rural areas, driving 35 minutes from Rio Vista to see a provider is not 'too far or too bad' compared to other rural areas in the country.

The range, said Andy Jordan, branch chief for the shortage designation branch in HRSA, should be no more than a 30-minute drive.

But the maximum amount of persons per doctor in the area, Jordan added, should be 3,500. Rio Vistas ratio is more than double that.

'Wow, that sounds pretty high. Someone should be talking to the state,' she said.

Discourse has started within certain medical facilities. Sutter Regional, for example, is looking to expand its current location and has added a part-time internist on Wednesday afternoons, when Ferrick takes off.

And NorthBay Medical Center also has plans to expand its services and is looking at Rio Vista to add a NorthBay Center for Primary Care within two years.

But these providers dont serve the entire population. Homeless and low-income residents dont have a facility to frequent in Rio Vista. The closest health care center to them would be on Beck Avenue in Fairfield.

Carol Hermsmeyer is the executive director and case manager at the Community Assistance Council in Rio Vista, where assistance is provided to help low income and homeless people. She is its only employee.

She is frustrated with the lack of support from the city and county in regards to health care in Rio Vista, knowing there are a lot of people who need help in the community.

'There is not much outreach to Rio Vista and I dont know if its the drive, but were very underserved in our community,' she said. 'I dont want to say Ive lost hope but I came to terms with (Rio Vista) not being a top priority for our city or county.

'Were not asking to have someone come out daily but to have a presence for people who need the help,' she continued. 'Its really discouraging. I dont blame anyone but I feel the city, county and agency need to talk about what to do.'

According to Hermsmeyer, the county was supposed to start a mobile clinic for the needy last summer but the plans collapsed.

Patrick Duterte, director of Solano County Health and Social Services, admitted the county failed to follow through with the mobile clinic because of challenges.

'To have a clinic that services a certain number of people, enough to make it cost-effective, is a challenge,' he said but added there are two services that frequent the community a physician and the Womens, Infants and Children program.

The problem, however, rests with their frequency. The physician visits once a week and WIC, once a month. Both meet at the basement of a local church.

'Yes, were going to do something and we should have done something by last April, but were going to try again,' Duterte said. 'They deserve it.'


At least once a week, Patrick Stasio, Solano County Health and Social Services health assistant, makes a visit to Rio Vista, helping the homeless connect to services and programs.

He describes the homeless population in Rio Vista as different than that of Fairfield and Vallejo, where they stay at either motels or jump 'from couch to another' with their family.

'There are a lot of folks out there living day-to-day and a lot of young people because there isnt any industry or jobs out there,' Stasio said. 'There is a big need, with a lot of people who qualify for food stamps, social services and County Medical Services Program. People are waiting for us to come in.'

The county has been looking for ways to assist Rio Vista, but the city also has to make an effort, Stasio said.

'They want services, but they dont want to do anything to get them,' he said.

Currently, Hermsmeyer must make referrals to Fairfield because the CAC is limited with its services, providing limited programs for those who need it most.

'We dont have transient homeless here, we have a high number of low-income, poor working and folks sleeping on someones floor. Were the only agency in town to help them and we have nothing,' she said. 'If I dont get support from the city or county, there is nothing I can do for these people but send them to Fairfield.'

Traveling to Fairfield from Rio Vista on public transportation is another issue the residents face. A senior shuttle service that took residents to and from Fairfield was discontinued earlier this year. And beginning Jan. 1, public transportation is limited to Tuesday only, when there is one bus making one round-trip.

'Its very sad. The city and county have to recognize us but no one has called to offer help,' Hermsmeyer said. 'I feel like no one wants to recognize there has to be an outreach. We have not one safe place for people to come ask for help.'

She also added Rio Vista doesnt offer a center for the elderly or the youth.

Before 2008, the CAC will close its doors to the residents of Rio Vista due to a lack of city and county support, according to Hermsmeyer.

'Were only supported by the community. There is nothing here. Its a growing city but were not making any changes.'


According to Dr. Ron Chapman, Solano County health officer and deputy director for Health and Social Services, the county has been 'struggling and planning to get medical care' to the area and will start a mobile clinic in April.

'The reality is that youll never get specialty care because the city doesnt have the volume to support it. Folks are forced to drive to bigger cities to get specialty care. Thats a challenge all over the country,' he said.

At Trilogy at Rio Vista, a growing senior community with 1,883 homes and a population of 2,500, expected to reach 3,010 homes within eight years, organized groups drive residents to their appointments in town and in Fairfield or Vacaville.

But for Hermsmeyer, communication between the city and county needs to exist in order to make changes.

'We really need help,' she said. 'People are going out of town and they cant afford it. Theyre getting behind in bills and there are major issues to talk about. Its like no one wants to address the issues.'