As communities look at improving health outcomes for vulnerable populations—such as older adults, individuals with disabilities and/or chronic health conditions, and low-income individuals—they are increasingly recognizing that fixing access to health care-related appointments isn’t enough. Other factors can be just as critical, such as addressing social isolation, giving access to healthy foods, connecting to support groups, and even just getting to jobs are also important health issues. These are often lumped into the term, “social determinants of health.” All of these activities have one thing in common, as many mobility managers know: transportation access.
The tie between wellness, transportation, and social services has been recognized by health care entities. However, despite their understanding of the impacts social determinants have on health, historically health care investments in social factors tend to be temporary and small in scale. But the tide may be changing as recent research has shown the promise of investing in social services: “Patients who had just one of their social needs met experienced a seven percent reduction in total care costs compared to those who had none of their needs met, indicating that even limited interventions may help to significantly reduce costs and improve quality of life for beneficiaries.”
A number of resources have also been released that support both social service and health care agencies in understanding the benefits of mutual partnerships to provide these services. KPMG released a report offering guidance and strategies for health care organizations on how to support and invest in social services. In addition, The Commonwealth Fund recently published an ROI calculator which was designed specifically to assist community-based organizations in creating financial agreements with health care entities to fund the delivery of social services. Mobility managers and other social service entities can learn a great deal from these tools, in particular with regards to what health care is looking for when identifying and implementing investments in social services such as transportation.
It is also important to remember the benefits that transportation can bring to all aspects of an individual’s well-being beyond direct medical services – including access to employment opportunities, local activities and events, and socialization with family and friends. Asheville, NC hosts an annual “Strive” campaign to bring awareness to the many ways that people can get around town using alternative mobility options (i.e. walking, biking, public transit, etc.). This past year, a large focus the campaign was the improvement of existing transportation services to better serve individuals with disabilities and older adults, as advocate raised the issue that despite the existence of transportation, it was not meeting the needs of key ridership populations.
Asheville serves as an example of the importance of inclusive planning. It is critical to have participation from individuals with disabilities and older adults in the design and implementation of transportation systems. When you design inclusive solutions, it can benefit all riders and community members. Mobility managers can check out this Tip Sheet for Planning Inclusivity from the Administration for Community Living for ideas on how to get started.
Remember: When we find solutions that work for the most vulnerable in our communities, we find solutions that work better for everyone.