What Rides to Wellness Means for Memphis

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Memphians often take for granted our ability to navigate around such a car-dependent metropolis, enabling us to get to what and where we need – weather permitting, at least.

Easy access to transportation, which for most of us means the family car, is what allows us to connect with friends and family, go shopping, and complete essential tasks like medical appointments. But for many of the most vulnerable of our neighbors, these options are limited. This has a direct relationship with the quality of their healthcare experiences.

National research points to travel barriers being a significant, if often overlooked, contributor to poor health and adverse outcomes. This comes in the form of missed appointments, inability to fill prescriptions, or the ability to maintain a care plan or change it when necessary.

One 2013 study in the Journal of Community Health pointed to this impact weighing heavily on those who live in poverty, cutting harshly across racial and socioeconomic lines. For example, an analysis of cancer patients living in Texas showed that while 38% of white adults cited a lack of access to a vehicle as a barrier that could result in missing a cancer treatment, the same figure was 55% for African American adults and 60% for Hispanic adults sampled.

Memphis’ transportation situation – and why we stepped in to help.

Owning a car can be greatly prohibitive for some households, with costs as high as $10,000 a year for a new vehicle.

Uber and Lyft do fill in the gaps for many Memphians, though it often isn’t suitable for making a doctor’s appointment. While these services allow for door-to-door transportation, ride fares that range from $10 to as high as $30 in “peak” or busy periods can be burdensome for seniors on fixed incomes. Plus, drivers will not always be able to help people with mobility issues in and out of a car – much less out of their homes.

Rideshare services have started offering free rides for appointments like vaccines – in fact, 901RideChoice ourselves have teamed up with Uber Health and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation on a rideshare project of our own. Still, Uber and Lyft are dependent on availability – and it can sometimes be difficult or time-consuming to hail a car on the app exactly when we need it.

During COVID-19, many Memphians working from home could help transport elderly or vulnerable relatives to their appointments. But as more people return to in-person jobs, this option is receding for a growing number of families.

You’re not alone if any or all the above points resonate with you. In fact, these factors were a few of the many reasons 901RideChoice unveiled our Rides to Wellness program.

This is a free service for older adults and people living with a disability who need local, reliable transportation options to get to their destinations. And we are filling the gap in several ways.

Forging strong community partnerships

We work closely with organizations like Memphis Crisis Center, the Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse program, the Aging Commission of the Mid-South, and PrimeCare Transport Services, to do what we do and reach the groups of adults who need us most. And of course, we’re backed by MATA – offering a highly personalized, straightforward alternative to their public transportation services.

Such partnerships not only maximize the services we can offer, but they also ensure that more and more families know about us, so we can be a source of continued service.

Partnering with the government to secure a reliable funding source

We are grateful for the support received from partners and friends in the Mid-South, but having backers in higher places doesn’t hurt.

Specifically, the City of Memphis’ Housing and Urban Development (HUD) division financially supports our work through its Strategic Community Investment Fund (SCIF), funding 25 round-trip rides every month, ensuring continuity and consistency.

The availability and convenience of a rideshare app – but free

In some ways, family members can think of us as an Uber-like service that transports their elderly loved ones, but for free, and with an availability they can count on. Most likely, there is at least one person in your life who would benefit from such a service, and may have wondered whether or not it existed.

The result is a reliable and compassionate solution for getting people to the appointments they need for follow-up consultations, prescriptions, and more – with a clear benefit of supporting optimal health outcomes.

Additionally, Rides to Wellness only takes a single phone call to access, with no need to download, learn or navigate a smartphone app, maximizing accessibility for anyone less technically inclined.

What this means for Memphians Our resolution for 2022 is to maximize our presence in the region, and grow our role in improving healthcare-related transportation for elderly and vulnerable people in our community.

Transportation, or the lack thereof, should never be a barrier to accessing healthcare, a core conviction that drives our mission. Like you, we will continue to be a voice advocating for improvements in shared infrastructure, and greater strength in other social services that Memphians benefit from. Getting people to where they need to go is part of a much larger system of solutions, but an essential one at that.

In the meantime, visit 901RideChoice to learn how we can help your family with its unique healthcare transportation needs. Together, we can and will keep you moving.

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