On the Road to Healthy Living, Many People Need a Lift

If you have medical appointments and you don’t have a car, and there’s no suitable bus route near your home, you might be out of luck. Sure, friends and family might sometimes offer rides, but there’s only so much time they can spare.

That makes transportation a vital health care issue. “It’s an under-recognized, critical human need,” says Jack Salo, executive director of the Rural Health Network (RHN) of South Central New York. “And in our economically depressed, aging region, it’s a need that is increasing significantly.”

Since 2012, RHN has addressed that need through Mobility Management of South Central New York (MMSCNY) and its Getthere Call Center, which helps people find transportation to medical appointments and other crucial locations—perhaps via paratransit bus, taxi or a volunteer driver program. The Community Foundation’s Harriet Ford Dickenson Fund gave RHN a $75,000, three-year grant in 2010 to support MMSCNY.

Getthere table during eventIn 2016, the Foundation focused on transportation and health again, providing $5,000 towards “Getting There: A Conference on Bridging the Transportation & Healthcare Gap.” Held in Binghamton on October 26, the event assembled stakeholders from the health care and transportation worlds—people who don’t normally interact—for a full day of presentations and workshops.

Spearheaded by RHN, the conference also drew support from the Health Action Priorities Network of the Southern Tier, Care Compass Network, Excellus, Binghamton University, Guthrie, Leatherstocking Collaborative Health Partners, Lourdes, UHS and Southern Tier Care Coordination.

The meeting had three primary goals, Salo says: to educate medical providers about Mobility Management, so they can use it to help their patients; to identify and share information on best practices; and to identify and share information on resources and policy. Attendees also offered ideas for a web- and mobile phone-based toolkit that MMSCNY is developing, to help medical professionals find transportation options for their patients.

“Getting There” was a great success, says Dot Richter, executive director of the Community Care Network of Nichols (CCNN), who facilitated several of the sessions. CCNN operates a much-used volunteer transportation service for residents of Nichols and nearby communities.

“The conference made people understand how important transportation is to health care, and to sustaining life in a rural community,” Richter says. Well-being depends on the ability to travel not only to medical appointments, but to pharmacies, to grocery stores that sell fresh produce, and to social events—all venues that are often out of reach for low-income residents of rural communities, she says. “I came away with hope that we opened some eyes to the size of the challenge.”

 

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