When getting to the doctor is half the battle to being well

FLINT, Michigan—The road to better health isn’t always easy. In fact, simply getting to doctor appointments can be a major hurdle for many in our community.

And, Angie Hampton knows it. Relying on friends and families to drive her to appointments just isn’t practical for anyone, says Hampton, 50, who recently became disabled because of chronic health issues. 

By the end of the year, the Mass Transportation Authority in Genesee County estimates that it will be giving 12,000 rides a month to people like Hampton through a unique—and quickly growing—program that provides transportation to medical appointments. 

The best part: It offers same day service, because let’s face it, people can’t plan when they will be sick or when they will need a ride.

Rides to Wellness started in September 2016 with five cars offering service. Now, there is a fleet of 35 giving 4,000 rides a month to pre-qualified participants. 

Eventually, there will be 100 cars helping people and families with this essential service, said Edgar H. Benning, General Manager and CEO of the Flint MTA

Hampton said she really appreciates the reliability and timeliness of the drivers. She calls the service “vital” for her health and wellbeing. 

“If I get sick on any particular day, they’re just a phone call away, and I know they’ll be there,” Hampton said. 

She can’t make her way to a bus stop, so the door-to-door service she gets with Rides to Wellness is important. Without it, Hampton would have to rely on friends and family, who also have other responsibilities, to get a ride to doctor appointments.

“It’s wonderful,” Hampton said. “You get to once again enjoy just running errands, you know? Sometimes those little things mean a lot more when you lose them.”

Rides to Wellness also provides rides to the pharmacy, grocery shopping, and Flint Farmer's Market. 

“Often times people can’t afford out of pocket transportation services or rely on family members to get them to an appointment,” Benning said. “People are living longer and they are needing more medical treatment, and you also have more young people in the community who don’t have an automobile that have non-emergency medical needs of their own.”

Rides to Wellness was designed by the Federal Transit Authority to provide transportation services to healthcare centers for people with extensive or chronic health issues. Michigan was one of four states to get initial funding in 2016. 

Flint’s  program is the only one in the nation to offer clients the ability to get a ride the same day they request it—generally within 30 minutes. 

The Federal Transit Authority estimates between 40 and 50 percent of missed medical appointments are because of unreliable transportation. 

“It's all about finding more ways we can help people get to the places that keep them healthy,” Benning said. 

James Czarney, a retired construction worker, has used the service for nearly 6 months. Because of work-related injuries, Czarney can’t drive but he does need to see a doctor regularly. 

“I’m a 100 percent disabled so without the program I wouldn’t be able to get to medical service or just run to the grocery,” Czarney said. “I take 10 prescriptions, so I need to get to the pharmacy all the time so the fact I can count on them, is very important.” 

Rides to Wellness operates 8 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact MTA customer service at 810-767-0100 for more information
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Read more articles by Jake Carah.