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Great Health Divide | Connecting patients with rides to medical appointments

Kent Thompson has been driving a medical transport van for 11 years and says many people rely...
Kent Thompson has been driving a medical transport van for 11 years and says many people rely on their services.(WSAZ)
Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT
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ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) - Whether you live in city limits or on the outskirts of the county line, quality of life can sometimes be determined by how accessible a ride is.

“Transportation is a massive social determinant of health,” said Rory Chapman. “Just your ability to go whenever and wherever you want, which we take for granted.”

As the executive director of FaithHealth Appalachia, Rory Chapman knows that those who live in rural parts of the region, like Wayne, Logan, and Lincoln counties in West Virginia, may not have a way to get to and from their medical appointments.

“It’s those way-out folks that really have the issues, not only because they’re so far from everything, but because they’re so isolated,” he said. “One of the things I like to tell people, you might not have ModivCare, you might not have TTA, you might not have Dial-a-Ride, you might not have all of those services in the areas of the hills and hollers, but what you do have is churches.”

His organization is connecting community resources, like hospitals in the Mountain Health Network to faith groups and other social services, hoping to improve the lives of those who live and work in the area.

“Appalachia is a very, not prideful, but proud area,” he said. “We are proud of where we are from, we pull ourselves up from our bootstraps, we get stuff done for ourselves. We don’t like help.”

For Joan Coleman of Ashland, without the help of the King’s Daughters Van Ministry, she wouldn’t be able to see her doctor.

“Can’t walk and I don’t have a car,” she said. “I can call Patty and them and they’re right there.”

The Van Ministry has been around for more than two decades but was initially a part of Our Lady of Bellefonte’s services before they closed their doors. Staff say they’re thankful the program could continue at KDMC.

“It’s really a lifesaver for them to be able to depend on us and not worry or stress about how they’re going to get to their doctor appointments,” said Diva Justice, manager of Community Relations.

Health leaders fear that social isolation and a lack of connectivity to resources means many homebound individuals are slipping through the cracks and not getting the care they need.

“Those missed appointments turn into emergency room visits,” Chapman said. “Which turn very expensive and very time-consuming and really can be the make or break in someone’s health.”

Nationally, an estimated 91% of households in the U.S. had at least one vehicle in 2017.

In Cabell County, an area that offers public transportation, 86% of homes have at least one car.

“I have nobody, and I have no way of getting there,” Coleman said. “So I can always count on these people.”

The real test for those even with a vehicle is ensuring that their transportation is reliable.

“A lot of these folks maybe they didn’t replace the tires on their car, and so they’re either running flat or about to bust because they needed to buy groceries or buy their prescriptions,” Chapman said.

Kent Robinson has been driving patients for 11 years and tells WSAZ, the relationships last long after drop-offs.

“We become their friends we become their family. Sometimes not only will you see them doing your job. You might be in your grocery store or you might be at the mall. They look forward to one of us coming to get them because they know we’ll get them there in a safe manner.”

Each person taking back the wheel, making sure they’re never putting their health, in the back seat.

To learn more about FaithHealth Appalachia click here.

King’s Daughters Medical Transportation Programs require that you have an appointment with a KDMC provider or service.

The patient must live within 50 miles of King’s Daughters.

Rides should be scheduled two to three weeks from the date of appointment or service for best availability. Rides are not guaranteed and short notice requests may not be able to be accommodated. Patients may self-schedule.

Transportation is only provided to and from appointments. Other non-medical stops are not permitted.

Services are available during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Patients must be able to walk or use a wheelchair to get to the vehicle. Drivers do not enter the patients’ homes.

King’s Daughters Van Ministry is a free service and can be reached at 606-408-9308.

For those who need a higher level of wheelchair or cot transport, King’s Daughters Medical Transport can be reached at 606-408-2900.

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