This winter’s record-breaking torrential rainstorm on Valentine’s Day destroyed segments of highways 243 and 74, forcing many hill residents to rethink when, where, and how they will continue to receive medical services while the roads are being repaired. 

It is unknown just how many residents are affected, but the road closures had an immediate impact on “Cody” (not her real name). When the storm struck, she was in Hemet for radiation therapy and overnight had to begin rethinking her treatment plans for breast cancer. 

“It was my second session and my third was the following day, but the big storm the night before washed out the roads,” Cody said. “I couldn’t come home, so my family and I spent the night in a hotel.”

Cody’s half-hour trip to the radiologist that Wednesday turned into a 90-minute trip home the long way around the mountain, through Sage.  

Her trips to Riverside University Health System in Moreno Valley “usually take at least two-and-a-half hours, and a lot longer [if an accident happens], because it is so far away,” Cody said. 

“I try to make my Hemet appointments for Wednesdays so I can take Idyllwild Shuttle, and in a timeframe to avoid inconvenience to others,” stated Cody. “I try to keep hospital appointments in Moreno Valley to a minimum and to schedule as many as I can at the same time, because we [must] drive so far.

“I get rides from friends who follow the pilot car on Highway 74 in the mornings, and then drive the long way home. Sometimes, we’ll wait until 6 or 7 p.m., but who wants to sit around Moreno Valley or Hemet all day?” 

Shuttle Manager Reba Coulter said, “Three hours of traveling out of our 8-hour workday puts a crimp in the limited window of time for people to take care of business, whether it’s a doctor appointment or going to the Social Security Office or shopping. It is certainly more expensive in the way of gasoline.  

“I know a lady who was seeing a doctor in Hemet, but she switched to the desert because she could under one of her medical plans. I know hill residents who pay big money to have private drivers take them off the hill for medical purposes,” Coulter said. 

“They’re older folks who are afraid to drive down,” Coulter added. “The need is there. I have no idea how much they are paying now, but it costs us more in gasoline to go the long way around.”

Cody said, “It was virtually impossible for me to live here and go to Hemet five-days-a-week for treatments. 

“The roads, then the snow, and my 19-year-old dog — who was practically on hospice care — were my obstacles, compounding the situation, and my state of mind was critical. My team of caregivers had talked with me about radiation treatment, issues and options before the storm and after. 

“After the storm, one radiologist said, ‘People delay radiation for all kinds of reasons. It is not always possible to do it right away,’ and technically, I’m cured. The surgeries cured [the cancer],” Cody said. 

“Another one told me, ‘If there is going to be a recurrence in the first five years, the chances are it will happen the first year, and if radiation treatments are within nine or 10 months of surgery, there is no problem.’

“I thought of moving to Hemet temporarily, but I decided to postpone the treatments,” Cody confessed. “I was upset that they had been interrupted, but if the caregivers had said, ‘You’re going to die if you don’t move to Hemet and get radiation,’ I would have figured out how to do that. They said I had nothing to worry about, ‘You’ve got wiggle room.’

“This winter, I’d had two surgeries,” Cody said. “After the second surgery, I was on pain medication for two-and-a-half months. Nobody told me to expect the pain and I think the pain medication escalated my depression. 

“I pretty much crashed and burned ... spontaneously crying all over the place, in pain, and having trouble eating,” Cody admitted. “I’ve lost 30 pounds since February. I was more worried about dying of malnutrition and depression than of cancer, and now, I’m taking anti-depressants. My close friend Sue [Anderson] knows. She was with me from the beginning when I found the first lump.” 

“She was a total mess,” Anderson said.

“And now there are two new lumps,” Cody added. “They aren’t near targeted hotspots. I don’t think they have anything to do with the radiation [decision]. They could be just scar tissue — part of healing — but I have scheduled a biopsy and expect that to come back negative.”

According to Idyllwild Shuttle driver Rebecca Oleson, “Between 67-71% of passengers use the free, door-to-door shuttle for medical reasons to go to Hemet and to the desert. Sometimes, 100% of the passengers traveling to the desert are going for healthcare purposes. 

“Our passengers have cardiac and kidney diseases, cancer ... they may be receiving chemotherapy,” stated Oleson. “When we take the pilot car to Hemet, sometimes we wait in line half an hour before departing. 

  “We don’t go to Banning anymore. Trying to get to there — or to San Bernardino and other areas where you [must] go all the way around to Temecula — I think that is the big difference.

“My passengers say, ‘We are busier on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the shuttle stays on the hill.’ They say it is hard to find a seat. Since the storm, people who used to go to Banning and Beaumont are getting their medication and pharmacy needs filled here, and using the clinics on the mountain, if their insurance will cover it. People are using the Help Center.”  

In the June 13 Town Crier issue, News Editor JP Crumrine spoke of Help Center clients “who have to commute to Hemet even to get to doctor and dentist appointments. Besides gas needs, oil changes, brake repairs and tires become or attenuate people’s financial reserves.”    

In her June 20 ‘Out Loud’ column, Editor/Co-Publisher Becky Clark spoke of cancelling an annual physical, and “wondering about healthcare options in the desert or Temecula — or just biting the bullet and driving to Fontana until the highway opens. I see why people move off the hill as they age. It’s mostly because of access to healthcare. It’s no wonder I keep hearing of more and more elderly people selling their homes and moving off the hill as they age.”  

Anderson says, “There are so many reasons one could say, ‘I need to get off the hill.’ Medical care — that’s a huge one. Another is transportation. Idyllwild Shuttle is fabulous, but it is limited at this point.” 

Anderson is a member of Idyllwild Elderly, “formed to discuss longer-term and more immediate issues that affect the aged populations’ ability to stay on the hill as they grow older. We want to come up with ways to make it possible for those of us who are getting older to be able to remain on the hill. Debbie Daniels is there representing Idy’s Helping Hands, which helps elders with transportation and by delivering food.”

Anderson and other friends try to help Cody with appetite issues and staying active socially. They do light chores and are gearing up to help her move. Cody expects the landlord to put the house on the market soon.

“My dream ... I just want my endurance and strength back — to get better,” Cody said. “I want to power walk the circle again. I am trying to fix the eating [problem] so I can get healthy. 

“I feel I am fighting for my life at this point, but what’s helpful is, a month ago, I was much worse, so I am headed in the right direction, starting to feel better.”