- Author: Laurel Schwartz
- Date: November 28, 2023
In Nashville, TN, Neighborhood Health, a nonprofit organization that serves patients regardless of their ability to pay, partners with the city’s transit organization to get people to appointments.
In Will County, IL, a Chicago exurb, Census tract surveys found that transit was a major barrier for women to get to their annual wellness visits. The Will County Health Department (WCHD) partnered with Pace Suburban Bus, a local transit agency, to connect women with bus vouchers to access necessary preventative care.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, it’s important for women to have annual preventative care services over their lifetime, particularly during childbearing ages. The Illinois Department of Health identified that there were pockets of Will County where fewer women were going on their annual visits than the county average. One of largest obstacles to access, they identified, was transit.
WCHD program coordinators Joan Stefka and Aishwarya Balakrishna were committed to reducing disparities in accessing care. To do this, they needed to start by identifying the roots of the problem.
“Doctors and medical providers are often not located near hospitals or medical centers, especially if a patient is only covered by Medicaid or has limited insurance,” Stefka explained.
Supported by a pilot grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Office of Women’s Health, Stefka and Balakrishna partnered with Pace Suburban Bus to give women free bus vouchers, either for a single ride or a full day.
“Sometimes women have a ride to their appointment, but not back,” said Balakrishna. “Sometimes they need a full day pass to get to their appointment and back, and then they’re going somewhere afterwards. It makes it more accessible for them.”
The vouchers are distributed at federally qualified health centers (FQHCS) and local homeless shelters. Use of the vouchers is tracked, and the team is has found that they are well utilized.
In addition to lack of transportation, the WCHD identified that lack of childcare was a significant barrier to care. With the vouchers, women can bring up to two children seven years old or younger without having to pay for their ride.
“We’re seeing increasing wellness visits overall, but the data also show that women of color still tend to go to their yearly visits less,” said Balakrishna. “Women of have so many responsibilities. Kids. A job. They don’t really prioritize their own health.”
“We’ve covered the county with ads, webpages, social media, digital ads, and bus shelter ads,” said Stefka.
They’ve titled their campaign “Don’t Let Transportation Be Your Barrier to Healthcare”, with the goal of addressing the well-documented transportation in specific areas of Will County. To reach different demographics, WCHD has published a mix of digital and physical ads in English and Spanish. Physical ads have QR codes that link to the women’s health program page, which includes information about how to obtain vouchers, and maps of the bus system, available in seven languages.
While FQHC had to pay for the ads on bus shelters and the outside of buses, Pace Suburban Bus didn’t charge for ads inside the bus, so long as they covered the cost of printing. The QR codes are effective: other than the FQHC’s main webpage, the women’s health page has had the most unique user traffic on their website.
Following an initial eight-month grant, the bus voucher program has been funded by the state for another two years.
“We hope that after that we can have some more room in the state budget to do more of these women’s health initiatives,” said Balakrishna. “It’s already a priority at the state level.”
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