Rural health network plans regional ride system

Patty Cantrell
February 26, 2020

Rural Missouri health network plans regional ride system
Rural communities across America know very well how stranded they are without decent transportation options.

Children are not able to participate in extracurricular activities. Retirees must move away to places with more options. Patients do not make follow-up appointments and end up with complications and hospital readmission. Employers shy away from places where they see challenges getting workers to their jobs.

Figuring out how to do transportation better is a crosscutting necessity that has brought a collaborative and creative group of organizations together in rural west central Missouri. They have formed a rural health network to advance their shared vision efficiently and effectively. They expect the Rides to Health and Wealth program they are now developing will get their region moving forward.

“A big key to keeping and attracting people and businesses here is making it easy to grow up and grow old in west central Missouri,” said Patty Cantrell, director of the regional community development corporation New Growth. “More transportation options will make the difference.”

At the Table. New Growth and its parent organization the West Central Missouri Community Action Agency are two of 11 initial partners that have formed the region’s Health and Wealth Network to carry out rural transportation innovation. Together with advisory committee representatives, the Network involves regional healthcare organizations, local government and ambulance districts, the area’s regional planning commission, education, independent living organizations, health departments and social service agencies.

A strategic planning process now underway will chart the rollout of Rides to Health and Wealth in rural west central Missouri counties. The plan, supported by the Office of Rural Health Policy at the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), will be final in summer 2020.

How it Works. Rides to Health and Wealth will use the HealthTran platform developed by the Missouri Rural Health Association. HealthTran is a ride organizing and mobility coordination system that MRHA designed to address the pressing and costly need among rural healthcare organizations to reduce missed appointments due to lack of transportation.

“When patients do not have reliable transportation, they often miss appointments,” said Ranae Walrath, Director of Social Services at Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare, one of the 11 initial members of west central Missouri’s Health and Wealth Network. “Healing and managing symptoms is not as successful when appointments are missed,” she said.

HealthTran provides transportation solutions by pooling and coordinating existing ride resources, such as buses and taxis if they exist, and by organizing new ride resources, as well. HealthTran has developed a program for recruiting and supporting independent vehicles and drivers, such as church vans and volunteers. Membership in HealthTran then allows rural health clinics and others to schedule rides with these pooled resources using state-of-the-art scheduling technology similar to ride-sharing platforms Lyft and Uber. Associated training, coordination, and data analysis keeps the system growing to meet member needs.

Return on Investment. The 2014 pilot of HealthTran in southern Missouri demonstrated the system could generate up to $10 in new billable services for every $1 that participating health providers set aside to cover transportation assistance so that patients could keep necessary appointments. In addition to new income and better health outcomes, rural hospitals and providers can also reduce costly emergency services usage and hospital readmissions by helping patients make it to appointments.

“HealthTran can help us get rural community transportation in gear because it starts in health care, where benefits are significant and immediate,” said Chris Thompson, President and CEO of the West Central Missouri Community Action Agency, which serves as the Health and Wealth Network’s facilitating and fiscal partner.

Rollout of the Network’s Rides to Health and Wealth program over 10 counties will start with rural healthcare and social service organizations and grow to include employers, retailers and others interested in using the system. After an initial setup fee, members pay monthly for HealthTran services based on usage volume.

“We expect the return on investment for healthcare organizations and others to both prove this concept and pave the way for more organizations to get involved,” said West Central’s project director Kelly Ast.

To learn more, contact Kelly Ast at <kast AT>.

STEERING COMMITTEE: Cedar County Memorial Hospital, Compass Health, Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare, Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission, Nevada Regional Medical Center, On My Own, Polk County Health Department, Vernon County Ambulance District, Vernon County Health Department, West Central Community Development Corporation (dba New Growth), West Central Missouri Community Action Agency.

Originally published Feb. 19, 2020, at the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center blog.

Further reading about HealthTran here:
Along for the RideWhy Doctors Should Consider Giving their Patients a RideEmerging Innovations: Mobility Managers