Thursday, March 3, 2016

Best practices: Making a difference, one trip at a time

After a disheartening rise in no-shows for doctor's appointments and stacks of not-picked-up prescriptions, a health center in southeast Kansas decided something must be done. 

No, it wasn't harsher consequences for those who failed to show up. Instead, they decided to instigate a service to help patients arrive. 

The Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHC/SEK) and the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program rolled out a new shuttle service in August 2014. 

The service provides free rides for patients to and from appointments at the health center's main clinic location and downtown dental clinic. A 14-passenger shuttle bus or smaller van - depending on how many patients it will serve that day - drives to patients' homes within a 15-mile radius of Pittsburg, including to Frontenac, Arma, Cherokee, Weir, Scammon and Girard. On average, five to 10 patients use the service each day. 

About a quarter of the missed appointments the health center experiences are due to transportation problems, so CHC/SEK gives patients an opportunity to get that care. 

Transportation situations some patients face that precipitate the need for the shuttle include:
  • Not having a vehicle to use.
  • Relying on a family friend.
  • Having problems with their car, such as a flat tire.
  • Not having enough gas to drive to the appointment. 

Krista Postai, CEO at CHC/SEK instigated the shuttle service by contacting the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program. The two organizations were already connected because the community action program coordinates Head Start in the Pittsburg area and cooperates with the health center for other outreaches. The community program owns, maintains and operates the vehicle, while the health center takes care of scheduling rides. 

As for the goal of helping patients show up for appointments and prescriptions, it’s been a tremendous success so far. The center's health care providers have noticed an upswing in appointment arrival and timely prescription pickup. 

"It started out slowly, obviously, but once people realized it was available and word started getting out, people really started utilizing it," said Bob Burk, director of community relations at CHC/SEK.  
"The shuttle now stays very busy, and it has made a difference. We are seeing fewer missed appointments and more people picking up prescriptions, simply because they have access." 

So far, neither of the two entities partnering to make the program possible foresee any imminent funding challenges. The Federal Transportation Administration provides 50 percent of the funding, the Kansas Department of Transportation chips in 20 percent and the remaining 30 percent is supplied by the health center. 

Thanks to the varied funding sources, the shuttle service created a job for a bus driver and, on the other side of the exchange, eliminated some health care worker headaches. 

According to Steve Lohr, executive director of community action program, "We want to grow the program and ensure that everyone who needs a ride to the health center gets one. We want to encourage folks who need a ride that we're available to schedule it. It saves all of us money when they get on that bus. It's a great opportunity for folks to leave their car at home and leave the driving to us."

How Patients Reserve a Ride
Rides are available free of charge from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, from patients' homes to the location of their health care appointment and back home.  

To arrange for transportation, patients call at least 24 hours before the requested pickup time. 

Article revised from Rural Health Education and Services' Kansas Connections e-news.

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