Access to care for the underprivileged is the biggest health-related issue plaguing residents in the tri-county area, according to an outreach effort that gained input from nearly 1,200 residents.

Roper St. Francis, the Medical University of South Carolina and Trident United Way began collecting data in May exploring the top health issues in the area.

The general public was able to weigh-in through surveys, interviews and focus groups. Overall, 1,181 residents provided input.

Those who took part in the process will remain anonymous, but several of their comments were made available.

One person wrote that people are “not informed about all resources that are available.” Another person stated there’s a “tremendous amount of inequity in the tri-county area.”

Even though the area is home to a multitude of hospitals and doctors’ offices, Dana Morton-Sheppard, a special populations coordinator at MUSC, said there are many people who still don’t have adequate access to health care.

In fact, she said, those same people probably didn’t even have access to the survey so they could voice their opinions.

“The people who need care the most are often the hardest to find,” she said during a recent health care forum. “So we need to go into these communities and find the poor and the underprivileged and help them find these resources.”

Dr. Paul Butler-Nalin, director of evaluation and learning at Trident United Way, posed several questions that he says are likely being asked in the community.

“Do I know where there are resources? And are the resources, in terms of access, where I need them to be?” he said. “At that level, as you look at the data, you may find that these types of questions are useful things to consider moving forward.”

Rick Foster, a senior executive with the South Carolina Hospital Association, agreed that the biggest challenge is making sure health care access is available for the most vulnerable populations.

“We have to pay attention to the concerns of those who are most at-risk in the community,” Foster said.

Other high-ranking health issues documented in the polling include mental health, obesity and environmental quality. Health experts say they will further assess the data and work with community leaders on solutions.

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.