West Central Missouri Community Action Agency (West Central) is the recipient of a one-year, $100,000 grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to organize the rollout of health-related transportation services in partnership with the Missouri Rural Health Association (MRHA). Specifically, the award supports development of the “Rides to Health and Wealth Network” and bringing MRHA’s medical rides system, HealthTran, to west central Missouri.

“Transportation consistently tops the list of individual and community needs we see across our nine counties,” said Chris Thompson, West Central’s President and CEO. “HealthTran can help us get rural community transportation in gear because it starts in health care, where benefits are significant and immediate.”

HealthTran helps medical providers find and schedule patient rides. It addresses a top and costly concern: Missed appointments, which equate to missed opportunities, both from the patient health perspective and health provider revenue perspective. HealthTran reduces the number of people who miss appointments for preventative and follow up care (e.g., lab services, radiology, primary care, specialty care, therapies, etc.) due to lack of transportation.

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 health providers invested in transportation assistance so patients could keep necessary appointments. In addition to new income and better health outcomes, rural hospitals and providers can also reduce emergency services usage and hospital readmissions by helping patients make it to appointments.

“When patients do not have reliable transportation, they often miss appointments. Healing and managing symptoms is not as successful when appointments are missed,” said Ranae Walrath, Director of Social Services at Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare.

Network Partners. Clinton, Missouri based Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare is one of nine founding members of the “Rides to Health and Wealth Network.” This group has formed to explore and design a regional rollout of HealthTran in west central Missouri. Other members are Nevada Regional Medical Center, Vernon County Ambulance District, On My Own, Polk County Health Department, Vernon County Health Department, and Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission along with lead organization, West Central Missouri Community Action Agency and affiliate community development corporation New Growth.

“Access to reliable transportation is one of the biggest keys to healthy communities,” said Tori Schulze with Vernon County Health Department. “That is why this is so important to us. Transportation is the key we have needed.”

Health and Wealth. The community transportation need is broad-based. A 2017 Vernon County study found that local households’ combined transportation and housing costs ranged from 52 percent to 73 percent of monthly income.

At the same time, HealthTran’s initial pilot found that most patients who needed rides (more than 75 percent) were fully covered by private insurance or Medicare. “The problem was a lack of ride resources, such as family members able to take off work to take grandparents to therapy,” said Mary Gordon, HealthTran Project Manager.

This is significant for west central Missouri, where an aging population underpins local economies. West central Missouri’s 41,000 retirees represent $726 million in annual social security receipts in the nine counties of Bates, Benton, Cass, Cedar, Henry, Hickory, Morgan, St. Clair, and Vernon. Making sure they can access care is one way to keep their families, wisdom, and money in hometowns.

It is also essential to keep rural hospitals and health providers in business because they serve as rural economic anchors. “Healthcare is a great benefit to all of our area citizens,” said Jackson Tough, Executive Director of the El Dorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. “But all around us we see hospitals and clinics closing their doors.”

In fact, the Missouri Foundation for Health estimates 48 percent of the state’s 64 rural hospitals operate at a financial loss. “This is a significant economic development factor,” said Sheridan Garman-Neeman, Executive Director of the seven-county Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission.

“HealthTran offers the prospect of retaining more of our health care entities, which is key to keeping and attracting residents as well as employers. As the local planning affiliate for the Missouri Department of Transportation, Kaysinger is ready and willing to see how HealthTran can help this region meet transportation needs and support rural health care.”

How it Works. HealthTran is a ride development and coordination system. Organizers identify and marshal ride resources, from existing taxis and OATS buses to independent vehicles and drivers, such as church vans and volunteers. HealthTran trains and supports participating volunteer drivers, including safety and payment. HealthTran also uses state-of-the-art scheduling technology, similar to Lyft and Uber, for efficiency and effectiveness.

More information about HealthTran is available at the web site www.HealthTran.org and at the Missouri Rural Health Associate web site www.morha.org.

Coverage of HealthTran in practice includes:
Rural Missouri, April, 2019, “Along for the Ride.”
Politico, April 24, 2017, “Why Doctors Should Consider Giving Their Patients a Ride.”
AARP Public Policy Institute, June 19, 2019 “Emerging Innovations: Mobility Managers.”