SACRAMENTO -- For many, the sound of an ambulance is the sound that somewhere, something is wrong.
But for Leilani Mitchell, the "wrong" is being forced to call an ambulance in a situation that isn't truly an emergency, and she says she had no choice.
"Both my boys had fevers," Leilani explained. "I couldn't get them into doctor's appointments, so we had to rush and call 911. I think it's ridiculous."
Leilani and her family live in the Del Paso Heights neighborhood of Sacramento. About 40,000 people call the area home. The Heights is bordered by Interstate 80 to the north, Arcade Creek to the south, Norwood Avenue on the west, and Roseville Road to the east. In this neighborhood, there are no hospitals. The last one shut down almost 30 years ago.
Now, it's only served by a handful of clinics, and one dental office. The people who live here say this isn't enough. Their home is a medical desert.
Getting to those medical centers and distant hospitals is a daily struggle, since many families don't have cars. It's a problem, compounded by who and who won't accept Medi-Cal coverage. Leilani's family's insurance is taken at nearby Access Dental, but when a failing tooth was swelling her son's jaw on January 9, the soonest they could get an appointment was March 27.
Teenager Orlin Hall Junior says his tooth hurt so bad, he knew he couldn't wait that long. So tired of pain unphased by ibuprofen, pain that disturbed his sleep and slowed his schoolwork, he pulled his own tooth out of his mouth.
"I wanted the pain to stop," Orlin told FOX40.
Leilani and her fiance say seeing their children suffer from medical pain makes them feel helpless.
"It's like the system is not to help the poor people that's actually out there struggling. We get pushed to the back burner to the ones that got the good insurance," Orlin Hall, Senior told FOX40.
We asked Access Dental about the waits this family, and others, have complained about online. In a statement to FOX40, the CEO of the company says they are "dedicated to their patient's comfort" and that they "have recently added more dental providers, and increased our hours of availability."
Deshanae Matthews is another Del Paso resident frustrated by the lack of medical care. She gave birth to her baby boy Da'Kari just two months ago. Her son has acid reflux, is lactose intolerant, and is on Medi-Cal. Without a car, she relies on her mom to get around. Taxis and ride hailing apps are too expensive, and the bus is a last resort.
"What if it's after hours? Where can we go?" Dashanae said. "After hours, there's no bus open for us to ride."
There is a clinic within walking distance -- Molina Medical. But aisde from the bad reviews posted by critics online, Dashanae says, she can't take her baby there for another reason.
"They're not accepting no infants right now," Dashanae explained.
While patients say the problems with Molina have gone on for years, clinic representatives told us patients "may have experienced delays in the past few months due to the provider shortage we encountered. We're proud to share we recently were able to hire several more outstanding physicians and nurse practitioners to meet the demand for care."
The lack of medical care, poverty, and financial politics are all fueling this growing problem, leaving families drained and waiting for the help they desperately need.
"If I live in North Sacramento, I should be able to find a place in North Sacramento for him to go," said Dashanae.