For many low-income, disabled or elderly rural Missourians, access to transportation for routine doctor’s appointments, prescriptions or otherwise simply making a trip into town can be nearly impossible or prohibitively expensive.
An organization in West Plains has set out to change that.
“We saw it as one of our area’s most urgent needs that we could do something about,” said Moria Seiber, director of Christos House in West Plains and a member of the West Plains Community Interagency Council (CIC).
The CIC’s focus is to provide transportation options to serve the needs of individuals and families and improve quality of life by focusing on health, well-being, employment, training, and economic and social factors that impact health.
A HealthTran pilot program was launched for the area in 2014 as a partnership between Southern Missouri Community Health Center and local public transportation services to test the feasibility and need for such a program.
In November 2019, the council officially launched HealthTran for West Plains after receiving $20,000 in funds from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks in May.
According to Sandra Morris, CIC’s mobility manager and HealthTran coordinator, HealthTran is a program offered by the Missouri Rural Health Association (MRHA). It is intended to create community networks to provide free and low-cost transportation for those who need it most, or in areas severely underserved by existing transportation.
“We have black holes in our area with no access to public transportation,” said Morris. She added that sometimes people in such areas can’t find anyone to take them to their medical appointments and have to rely on ambulances, potentially tying up emergency resources needed elsewhere.
Morris said the HealthTran program uses existing public, private and volunteer transportation resources and is not in competition with them.
She explained that organizations, public and private can join in the program to become participants in offering transportation assistance.
For a one-time fee of $1,750 to the CIC and a yearly fee of $250 to MRHA, organizations can be part of the program without having to try and set something up on their own.
According to Morris, the fees cover volunteer driver recruitment, transit provider recruitment, training in use of scheduling technology, organizing data collection, working out logistical issues, team development and marketing.
“We rely on rider referrals to identify who is in need of transport and, once approved, we set it up for them,” Morris said. “We go for the cheapest options available first.”
Sometimes there are no options available and this is where volunteers come in, according to Allison Hines, HealthTran volunteer manager.
“We had our first volunteer ride yesterday,” Hines said.
The CIC began seeking volunteers to drive for the program last September.
At the end of each month, said Morris, participating member organizations are billed $3 per ride pickup, $1.10 per mile driven with passengers in transit and any other public transit fees that may apply.
She added the mileage is tracked by an iPhone app that each driver has, and drivers indicate through the app when they have picked up and dropped off their riders. The app also tracks the volunteer’s time and that can be used for tax deductible purposes. She said that they are very flexible with volunteers and riders schedules.
Hines explained volunteers are selected through a process involving phone interviews and a background check, as well as verifying they have a registered, insured vehicle and a valid driver’s license.
“Our goal is to find good matches with volunteers and drivers and build positive relationships,” Hines said. She explained many homebound individuals rarely receive any social interaction and the transportation service is one way to provide it.
Between 2014 and 2016, according to a Missouri Foundation for Health report, HealthTran provided transportation for more than 720 residents of rural areas and processed more than 4,840 referrals. Funding is provided by a combination of state and federal grants.
For more information about HealthTran call Morris at 417-372-7912 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.