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Time-Consuming Trip To And From New VA Hospital

Floridians depend on cars to get just about anywhere. And getting to the doctor without one can be tough.

Orlando resident David Williams knows this reality well, especially since  the brand new Orlando VA Medical Center moved from the downtown core to the suburbs.

To get to and from his doctor’s appointment at the new Orlando VA Medical Center, it involves a VA shuttle, a city bus and a walk back home.

In a car, it would take Williams a little less than 30 minutes to make the 21-mile trip. Hop on an expressway in downtown, head south on a secondary highway, and you're there.

On his most recent trip, he arrives at the VA already thinking about the ride back home. 

"Hey sir, where does the shuttle come?," he asks as he checks in at the front desk. "I gotta catch the 4 o’clock shuttle back."

It's 1:09 p.m. Williams has a 2:30 appointment. He’s worried the doctor is running late, which could make him make him miss the last shuttle back.

"I need to be gone by 3:05 p.m. to take the last shuttle back to Orlando. Because if not, we’re gonna be walking," he says with a laugh.

Tim Liezert is director of the Orlando VA Medical Center. He said the massive clinic doesn’t just serve one county, but six, all the way from Disney World to Daytona Beach. That’s more than 6,600 square miles with 375,000 veterans. So having close access to major highways is a plus.

"We’ve been open now for about three months," he said. "The transportation infrastructure is in place now and will only get better."

At 3:40 p.m. Williams finishes up with his doctor, and picks up his blood pressure medication and arthritis drugs.

His sits outside the Orlando VA Medical Center, flags whipping in the wind, waiting for the shuttle to come at 4 p.m. It arrives 10 minutes late.

The shuttle takes Williams to Lake Baldwin, the area where the clinic used to be. It pulls in around 4:45 p.m. and Williams spies the city bus that is his ride to downtown. 

"It’s coming out. There’s the bus. See the bus? ....We missed it," he sighs.

So he waits.

" The way I do it, I try to arrange my schedule so I’m not stressed out if the bus is a little late," he said. "If I miss a bus, OK, I’m not stressed out, I’m not missing anything."  

It was 1:09 p.m. when Williams arrived at the VA hospital. He steps off the bus and finishes up his trip with a short walk from the bus stop to his place. It's 5:10 p.m.

Four hours and one minute to see the doctor, the nurse, get prescriptions, and get back.

Normally, it would be six hours: Two hours to get there, two hours for the appointment, and two hours to get back.

"Six hours for a one-hour doctor visit. Go figure," he said.

Williams doesn’t mind the six hours. It doesn’t cost him anything, he says.

Anything but time.

Abe Aboraya is a reporter with WMFEin Orlando. WMFE is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.