Transportation task force in Franklin County aims to provide access to healthcare

By Rachel Lucas - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROCKY MOUNT (WSLS 10) -The biggest barrier between people living in Franklin County and good health care is transportation.

A new community health survey from Carilion shows patients often can't get a ride for doctors appointments, especially in the most rural parts of the county.

It's not only a problem for patients, but also for hospitals and EMT's.

One of the biggest burdens from that lack of transportation is being put on the local rescue squads. The survey found that often ambulances are being called to people's homes, because they don't have any other means of transportation, even in a non-emergency situation.

Bill Jacobsen, administrator at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital and Vice President at Carilion Clinic says it's not a lack of doctors or health providers, it's a means for patients to see them.

"It's very frustrating," Jacobsen said.

Despite their best efforts to care for patients, especially for follow ups, it's a problem Jacobsen says he sees too often.

"We occasionally have a patient who will come in here by ambulance and we will treat them and we will release them from the emergency room and they have no way home," Jacobsen said.

It's a county-wide problem among all demographics, but especially for low-income patients, those with disabilities, and the elderly.

Tom Mason, Executive Director at the Disability Rights and Resource Center in Rocky Mount says it's an issue his organization works to fix for those with disabilities in the community. After discussions with other organizations, he said he realized it's a widespread problem.

"The issue is, we've got to have some transportation in Franklin County and Rocky Mount," Mason said.

Mason is heading up a new Transportation Task Force to fix the problem.

We all have an interest in improving transportation because there is absolutely no public transportation of any type for people that are shut in for whatever reason to get to their doctor's appointments," Mason said.

He says they are working on modeling the volunteer based program off of "Bedford Rides," a similar initiative.that was successful in Bedford County.

"I really believe that in less than 18-months we can have a couple of vehicles on the road," Mason said. While he admits it's ambitious, he says he is determined to get the program off the ground.

"I've got a gut feeling," Mason said.

For now dubbed "Franklin Rides," the program would be based on volunteer drivers.

It's expected to cost a little over 200-thousand dollars a year and will heavily rely on donations.

Costs include two employees, maintenance, insurance and gas for the vehicles as well as marketing costs.

Mason said they hope to receive donations of vehicles as well as money to get the program started. He says they will also pursue grant funding.

To donate to the program click here by visiting DRRC's website.

DRRC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Mason says they hope to have a policy manual completed by September.   

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