Transportation is key to access

In February, the Centre County Partnership for Community Health and Mount Nittany Health convened the first Health Summit to determine where the gaps in health care are in our region.

Six priority needs were identified, one of them being transportation, or access to health care.

Adequate transportation is the most critical factor in providing health care for all of our residents.

For the millions of Americans without a private automobile, getting to a doctor’s appointment is impossible without transportation assistance. As it is elsewhere in the country, transportation — public transit, dial-a-ride service, a taxi or a ride with a friend — is truly the bridge to health care access in our community.

There are, however, challenges to face and resolve to ensure that this bridge is available to all who need it.

One is our assumption about private vehicles — who has them and who does not.

Since World War II, it has become a given that everyone except those in America’s very largest cities provide their own private means of transportation.

Everyone drives a car? Not so.

People with disabilities, including those experiencing the limitations of advanced age, often do not drive. Children do not drive. People have medical procedures that leave them unable to drive. Others live in households where the sole auto is needed for someone else to get to work.

And, even in Centre County, some people have incomes so low that owning an automobile is beyond their reach. The list goes on.

In challenging this assumption about the private automobile, I would like to introduce the notion of community transportation. What is community transportation?

The Community Transportation Association of America has released a medical transportation tool kit and best-practices paper that provide a good definition.

Community transportation is a practical alternative to the private vehicle. It is an effective network of public, community-based and faith-based agencies and coordinated services that can accomplish many goals related to access to health care.

Community transportation can connect people from all walks of life — seniors, those too ill to drive, those without cars or those in isolated areas — with their medical appointments, including dialysis and chemotherapy services.

It can also assist employees of medical offices, hospitals and other health care facilities in getting to their jobs.

What does community transportation look like? For many Americans, it means taxi service, volunteer drivers and rides from the local community health center. For some, it means fixed-route transit such as CATA Bus. For others, it will be dial-a-ride, such as CATA Ride or the service provided by the Centre County Office of Transportation. In large urban areas, rail and subway can round out the picture.

Friends and family members are a wonderful resource, but there are limitations.

Adult children move out of the area and cannot take on the task of transporting aging parents. Neighbors can help out, but it’s a lot to ask of someone when medical services are needed daily.

This is where the full network of services in the community must be taken into consideration.

Although Centre County has an array of community transportation services, there are holes in the fabric.

CATA’s bus service is excellent in some corridors, but many neighborhoods receive only skeletal service. The Centre County Office of Transportation does a great job in rural areas, but hours of service are limited. Community Help Centre arranges rides when there are no other options, but its capabilities are not unlimited. And taxi services can be very expensive when trips are long.

A robust community transportation network means an opportunity to access medical care, to remain independent and self-sufficient and to participate fully in the life of the community, regardless of one’s ability to drive.

Community transportation is the key to appropriate and cost-effective nonemergency medical transportation.