When Organización Latino-Americana of the East End Transportation Advocate Alma Tovar recently brought a family with a five-week-old little girl to the pediatric office of Dr. Harriet Hellman for a concern they had about a rash the baby had developed, she had little idea that the baby’s life was at risk.
But once she learned that the girl was in danger, she didn’t hesitate to help get the baby to Stony Brook University Hospital for the care she needed.
“Lilia (name changed) is five weeks old and was brought to my office by her mother and her grandmother, who thought she was having an immunization reaction,” said Dr. Hellman. “She was febrile and irritable with a rash. I took one look at her and knew immediately that she had disseminated Lyme disease and possibly meningitis.”
“My staff and I helped the family use OLA transportation to get to the office visit – usually they walk,” she said. “When I saw the infant, I knew I had to get her to Stony Brook immediately for admission and care by the Pediatric Infectious Disease team.”
Alma didn’t hesitate to bring the family to the hospital, and the baby is now receiving the treatment she needs, and is being evaluated for other tick-borne diseases, as the hospital keeps her under care until she is well on the road to recovery.
“I have never seen an infant that young with Lyme disease in 46 years. I owe Alma a debt of gratitude,” said Dr. Hellman. “I will never forget her dedication and she should know that she unequivocally saved a life.”
“The medical transportation service was only supposed to be a brief stop gap measure to get vulnerable families and individuals through the winter,” said OLA Executive Director Minerva Perez.
Alma’s services have now been extended to four days per week, thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Southampton Bath and Tennis Foundation.
“With transportation needs rising along with immigration fears, while many bus lines in Suffolk County are cut, OLA found support from Southampton Bath and Tennis Foundation when we need it most,” added Ms. Perez.
“We had reduce Alma’s hours to only two days a week because we didn’t have funding to sustain any increase in her employment, but then we were introduced to Southampton Bath and Tennis and they immediately jumped in to provide funding to increase Alma’s hours to four days a week for a full year,” says Ms. Perez.
“Alma is what you dream of when you think of a committed community advocate,” she added. “Her dedication and her compassion inform every action she takes.”
Alma will assume a four-day a week schedule mid-September. Her work will include assessing the needs of community members seeking medical transportation, connecting those in need of transportation to existing means if they are eligible, driving people from their homes to their doctor appointments and returning them home, acting as liaison to a group of OLA transportation volunteers ready to help as needed, compiling statistics, stories, video, and audio of those without access to viable public bus transportation and speaking at legislative meetings to advocate for viable public bus transportation
OLA will be including all East End Towns in its transportation advocacy work.
“While some progress is being made in Springs-East Hampton to reduce the length of the bus ride to the Pantigo Road healthcare facility, from 3 hours one way, it is clear that the overall picture of public transportation is a dismal one in need of town support as well as county attention,” says Ms. Perez.
“We recognize that public bus transportation across Suffolk County has been lacking for many years,” she added. “We are beyond the need for a small fix. We need viable public bus transportation now: Bus transportation should start earlier (5 a.m.), end later (12 am) and should run at double the current frequency, with a goal of at least two busses each hour.”
“Committing to viable public bus transport whether fixed- or non-fixed route is a path to environmentally sound and humane transportation for families in need, teens not yet able to drive, workers supporting our economy, college students not able to afford a car, and any community member finding themselves without a car for a variety of reasons.” she added. “For now, we are lucky to have Alma four days a week starting in mid-September, but every day we are working to end her position as driver and let the county and towns take their rightful responsibility to provide transportation access.”
For medical transportation needs that cannot be met by any other means, please call 631.899.3441 for a screening. If OLA can help, they will. If they cannot, they will offer to connect you to help from a volunteer.