Doctors Offices Aren't Accessible
May 14, 2002
MARY JO LAYTON, STAFF WRITER
Kate Blisard's physician knew so little about pregnancy in cerebral palsy patients that he advised her to abort when she went for a check-up. She never followed his advice.
Dr. Richard L. Bruno has many disabled patients who have never had a gynecological exam because they could not reach an examining table.
Janice Sangle, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, struggles to maneuver in the dentist's examining chair every time she has a checkup.
In their testimony before the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee on Friday, the speakers urged legislators to improve disabled women's access to health care. A dozen speakers at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck requested better training for doctors and urged lawmakers to create a health care resource center to aid the disabled.
Speakers said women struggle to get mammograms because the cancer screening equipment cannot reach them when they are seated in a wheelchair. For other disabled women, including Anita Clavering, the struggle to get treatment starts with poor transportation. She recalled waiting hours for a taxi to take her to her's doctor's appointment. The cab never showed and the appointment had to be canceled.
"Consumers with disabilities need better access to transportation," said Clavering, who, like many of the speakers, is a member of the state's Women with Disabilities Health Care Steering Committee.
At times, lawmakers shook their heads in disbelief as speakers afflicted with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and other disabilities detailed their struggles to find doctors or undergo exams. Or to find physicians who would treat them with dignity, acknowledging their sexuality and their desire to bear children.
Blisard, a member of the steering committee, said she could not find a doctor to treat her when she was pregnant.
"I was told to abort. I did not. I have two grown children," she said. "Twenty years later, women are still searching for caring and knowledgeable physicians."
In some cases, speakers proposed solutions that were welcomed by Chairwoman Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck.
Bruno, director of The Post-Polio Institute at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, proposed what he called "the Physical Access to Medical Care bill. By 2007, every health care provider in New Jersey would be required to provide proof that their offices are wheelchair accessible. Although the provision has been required since 1979 of all doctors who receive Medicare payments, it's not enforced, Bruno said.
Bruno also proposes requiring all physicians to have at least one examining table that is easily lowered to accommodate patients who use wheelchairs. Such equipment would cost about $2,000, he said.
"I cannot tell you the number of my post-polio patients who have never
in their lives had a gynecological examination because their doctors have
examining tables so high that a pole vaulter would have trouble mounting
them," said Bruno.
(C) 2002 The Record, Bergen County, NJ.