CANTON — Grant funding awarded to St. Lawrence Health System is providing low-income St. Lawrence County residents free rides to non-medical destinations like pharmacies, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, self-help classes and other places that could improve their health.
St. Lawrence Health System received the $154,000 grant earlier this year through the Adirondack Health Institute, a not-for-profit agency in Plattsburgh. SLHS is the umbrella organization for Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, and Gouverneur Hospital,
“We decided we wanted to target our Medicaid population to get to non-medical appointments,” said Casandra Dodd, director of partner engagement for CPH.
“Social determinants of health encompass a lot of things. It could be your living arrangements, your employment, food insecurity or transportation. We recognized we can’t just focus on getting our patients to their (medical) appointments and getting them back home. That’s only one part of the puzzle.”
To utilize the access to care funding, SLHS contracted with Volunteer Transportation Center, 6587 Route 11. The health system also received input from several other agencies, including the county’s Department of Social Services and the St. Lawrence Health Initiative.
Christine Richardson, Volunteer Transportation Center program director, said Medicaid recipients were already eligible for rides to medical appointments through an existing statewide program called Medical Answering Service.
The new ride program started in April and is designed to take people to non-medical places that could improve their health. Besides stores, it can include support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, an exercise class or classes that target a chronic illness like diabetes. Continuing education classes, including parenting classes, also qualify.
“What if you’re a diabetic and you’re not doing the grocery shopping, but everything in your cupboard is full of carbohydrates, everything is processed. That’s going to play a significant factor in health and wellness. We want to work on getting people to healthy food options,” Ms. Dodd said.
Clients who receive transportation services will also be tracked to determine a correlation rate between providing rides and admission and readmission rates to the hospital.
Ms. Richardson said clients can be assisted in different ways depending on their situation. Some are provided gas cards, some are paid mileage reimbursement and some are allowed to ride the public bus without paying the $2 ride fee. The First Mile, Last Mile program where volunteer drivers provide car rides to people from their homes to the bus stop.
“We’ve also worked out an arrangement with a couple of ambulette services so that people in wheelchairs are able to get out in the community also,” she said.
Trips have to be authorized by a primary care provider, a social worker, or someone else who is connected to a client’s care. So far, 242 trips have been authorized, Ms. Richardson said.
“This allows for us to be able to help people in ways we weren’t able to help them before,” she said.
Ms. Dodd said the program will continue until all the funding has been used.
“We are looking for other grant opportunities to see about extending the funding,” she said.
Ms. Dodd said more volunteer drivers are always needed. Drivers are reimbursed for their mileage and scheduling is flexible.