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The Pasco County Public Transportation bus system has plans to expand its service in the Shady Hills area, with a focus on the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter. Both the Florida Department of Health Pasco and Dade City-based Premier Community HealthCare operate clinics at the disaster shelter on Denton Avenue. The shelter is two miles away from the nearest current PCPT bus stop, which is on Little Road.

HUDSON — Free and low-cost healthcare services can be a blessing for many, but for those who must rely on Pasco County Public Transportation to get to the health clinic on Denton Avenue in Hudson, there’s a catch.

The PCPT bus stop is at the corner of Little Road and Denton Avenue, leaving patients with a 2-mile walk to the clinic — a route lacking sidewalks the whole way.

A solution is in the works, though it may be a year or more away.

PCPT “is aware of the transportation needs in the Shady Hills area of Pasco County, and is planning a bus route that will focus on providing service to the Health Department on Denton Avenue in Hudson,” according to Tambrey Laine, Pasco County public information officer. The proposed changes would connect Shady Hills to the PCPT bus route, with the service extension scheduled for the county 2020 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1, 2019, according to Laine.

“While the actual routing or timing of service could change due to stakeholder requirements, Pasco County budgetary restrictions or citizen needs, providing bus service to the Health Department is a high priority,” said Laine.

Though it may be a while before county buses will be dropping off and picking up at the clinic, the prospect of the extension coming is welcomed, said Cheryl Pollock, chief of development and communications of Premier Community HealthCare, which shares space at the clinic with the Florida Department of Health Pasco County’s clinic services.

“Since we opened alongside (the Health Department) we’ve been advocates and we’re excited by the opportunity for people to access our facility,” said Pollock.

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Little Road and Denton Avenue, near the northern end of PCPT Route 21, is the closest stop to the health clinics at the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter. The shelter is two miles to the east on Denton Avenue, a two-lane road that does not have sidewalks.

Premier has been doing what it can to make the trip to the clinic easier for those who have trouble walking, providing bus passes to patients, as well as free transportation via the Uber Health ride service.

The Uber service is “unfunded,” said Pollock, but serving patients is a priority, so Premier is committed to paying for rides “for those who can’t make that last leg of the hike” to the clinic from the bus stop.

Melissa Watts, Pasco County’s public information officer for the Health Department, said an extension of the bus route would help those who utilize the Women, Infants and Children services, the department’s Healthy Start new mothers program, along with its breast and cervical cancer services at the Denton clinic.

“If it helps people get to our facilities, that’s always a good thing,” Watts said.

No one will benefit more than patients, said Michelle Taber of Port Richey. She sees a doctor at the clinic and depends on the No. 21 bus to get her to the corner of Little Road and Denton Avenue. From there she walks.

“There’s no sidewalk, so you have to walk in the grass on the edge of the road and that’s not safe,” she said. “If you’re not feeling well it’s terrible; if you were handicapped or had limited mobility, it would really be horrible.”

Taber, who has made the trek during the peak of summer heat and once in a heavy thunderstorm, said she looks forward to the prospect of the bus carrying passengers to and from the clinic.

“That would be a godsend,” she said.

Pollock said for some who depend on the bus, the walk has been enough to discourage them from visiting the clinic at all.

“Absolutely,” she said, adding that’s something Premier and the healthcare workers at the clinic hate to hear, as the objective is just the opposite.

“The whole goal is to improve access to care,” said Pollock.