Massachusetts Transit Provider Offers Patients Streamlined Access to Healthcare

  • Author: Edward Graham
  • Date: November 23, 2021

In order to address some of the barriers to equitable healthcare access, transit providers across the U.S. are partnering with local hospitals and medical providers to provide patients with streamlined, door-to-door transportation services to improve overall community health.

Transportation has long been identified as a critical component of social health. A 2019 survey conducted by Kaiser Permanente found a direct correlation between unmet social needs and poor health outcomes, with respondents who reported issues accessing food, housing, and transportation being twice as likely to rate their own health as poor or fair when compared to those who did not face similar concerns. Eighty percent of those surveyed also said that reliable transportation was very or extremely important to their health.

To meet the medical needs of local residents, the Quaboag Connector—a demand-responsive transit provider based in west-central Massachusetts—is partnering with local healthcare providers and dialysis centers to improve the health outcomes of residents who lack access to non-emergency transportation services. This collaborative partnership is helping to ensure that residents can access a wide range of medical services needed to maintain their health and well-being.

Meeting the Social and Health Needs of the Region  

Launched in 2017 by the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation (QVCDC) and the town of Ware, Massachusetts, the Quaboag Connector acts as a community shuttle service for nine towns across the state. Utilizing a fleet of vans, drivers, and dispatchers, the Connector provides residents with access to a host of destinations, including jobs and employment opportunities, grocery stores, public transit services, and health appointments.

While residents can book a ride for any needed trip, Mel-Jean Gravel, the Connector’s Rural Transportation Dispatch and Reservation Manager, said the service’s dispatchers work with dialysis centers to schedule appointments for patients, as well as local nursing homes that don’t have the capability to transfer their patients to medical visits.

“They call us and we provide their assisted living residents with rides to their appointments,” Gravel said. “If we can only bring the patients one way, then they can provide a nurse to bring them on the return ride. It works out really well for the patients and for us.”

Gravel said that the Connector employs a team of four dispatchers to schedule and maintain the service, with the dispatchers using their network to alert medical providers or dialysis centers if patients are running late for their appointments.

Prior to the Covid outbreak, the Connector provided roughly 1,000 rides each month for local residents. While ridership decreased as a result of the pandemic, the Connector reports that they are back up to approximately 700 monthly rides. Gravel added that, for any non-medical rides, the service has tried to limit the number of passengers in its vans to a maximum of three riders. But the Connector has a standing policy of only allowing one patient per van if they are being transported to or from a medical appointment, part of an effort to ensure that residents in need of health services have the safety and mobility they need to stay healthy.

Partnership With Local Health System Will Expand Transportation Services

To provide area residents with even greater access to healthcare services, the Connector has recently partnered with Baystate Health in neighboring Springfield to operate a van reserved solely for medical-related travel.

Sheila Cuddy, Executive Director of QVCDC, said the new program—known as Convenient Care—will expand the Connector’s health-related transit services once it officially launches.

“Baystate established an urgent care center in a neighboring community, and this new service will provide trips to that urgent care service,” Cuddy said. “When there’s some down time, we also want to provide transportation to other Baystate health facilities, whether it’s a lab for tests or a satellite location where a physician’s office is located.”

Cuddy said that between 11 to 20 percent of the Connector’s monthly rides are usually for medical appointments, which helped signal the need for a dedicated van. To use the new service, residents will call the Connector’s dispatchers to schedule a ride to the urgent care center or another related healthcare facility. The dispatchers will use a screening process to determine whether a van is needed to take the caller to the urgent care center, or if it’s a trip that should be taken by an ambulance instead.

Cuddy said the Convenient Care program will help alleviate some of the service’s demand by reserving a van for medical-related transportation, thereby allowing the Connector to better schedule rides for people who need to go other places, like to work or to the grocery store. And the Connector, along with QVCDC, is also working to address gaps in the region’s existing transit services by rolling out a new fixed-route shuttle service across the region.

“When we started undertaking our project, we looked at what access to transportation can do for people in a community,” Cuddy said. “We know from our research that it really helps connect residents with the healthcare resources that they need. So getting people to medical appointments, employment, or the grocery store—particularly in a rural region such as ours—is a critical piece of the service we provide.”

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