Elsevier, Journal of Transport and Health, Volume 24, March 2022
The ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted the need for individuals to have easy access to healthcare facilities for treatment as well as vaccinations. The surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations during 2020 also underscored the fact that accessibility to nearby hospitals for testing, treatment and vaccination sites is crucial for patients with fever or respiratory symptoms. Although necessary, quantifying healthcare access is challenging as it depends on a complex interaction between underlying socioeconomic and physical factors. In this case study, we deployed a Multi Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) approach to uncover the barriers and their effect on healthcare access. Using a least cost path (LCP) analysis we quantified the costs associated with healthcare access from each census block group in the Los Angeles metropolitan area (LA Metro) to the nearest hospital. Social vulnerability reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the daily number of COVID-19 cases from the Los Angeles open data portal and built environment characteristics (slope of the street, car ownership, population density distribution, walkability, traffic collision density, and speed limit) were used to quantify overall accessibility index for the entire study area. Our results showed that the census block groups with a social vulnerability index above 0.75 (high vulnerability) had low accessibility owing to the higher cost of access to nearby hospitals. These areas were also coincident with the hotspots for COVID-19 cases and deaths which highlighted the inequitable exposure of socially disadvantaged populations to COVID-19 infections and how the pandemic impacts were exacerbated by the synergistic effect of socioeconomic status and built environment characteristics of the locations where the disadvantaged populations resided. The framework proposed herein could be adapted to geo-target testing/vaccination sites and improve accessibility to healthcare facilities in general and more specifically among the socially vulnerable populations residing in urban areas to reduce their overall health risks during future pandemic outbreaks.