Accessibility to Non-Emergency Transportation Services for Senior Citizens & Veterans with Medical Health Disparities in Rural Areas

STS Students

By Anthony Wright

Anthony is a Cincinnati-born, Los Angeles-raised STS: Policy & Law senior. Some of his hobbies include reading financial literacy and personal development books, competing in CEO business plan competitions, and leading various student organizations. 

According to the Transportation Research Board, “Nearly 4 million Americans miss or delay medical care each year due to a lack of transportation.” This issue is pertinent to the community because every family, especially senior citizens and veterans, needs transportation access to life-sustaining services such as primary healthcare providers, pharmacies, nursing homes, grocery stores, and banks in order to stay alive. There is a lack of affordable, safe, and efficient transportation in America, and rural areas are impacted the hardest. My solution is to create a non-e­­mergency transportation network connecting Rapid City public transportation services with local primary health care providers, nursing homes, pharmacies, grocery stores, and various essential service vendors to make them more accessible for seniors and veterans. 

Research has proven that consistent transportation access to healthcare vastly increases the health outcomes of members and leads to dramatic cost savings. For example, there was an “experiment of transportation brokerage service administered in Kentucky and Georgia where access to healthcare improved and resulted in hospital admissions and medical expenditures decreasing for diabetic adults.” The Centers for Disease Control estimated that “8% of the adult population ages 55 and older have at least one chronic condition, resulting in these individuals in need of non-emergency medical transportation to access life sustaining treatments and services they need. More importantly, a large percent of the 20 million adults living with chronic kidney disease undergo dialysis three times a week. Approximately 66% of dialysis patients rely on others for transportation to and from their appointments.”

Non-emergency transportation service providers are a reliable way to receive transportation to avoid missing appointments and attend other obligations. These overwhelming rates are due to many factors, including lack of opportunities and lack of resources nationally. Figure 1 highlights one of the greatest reasons why senior citizens and veterans miss their medical appointments: bus routes having limited time schedules. Figure 1 also illustrates how the Coolidge Route runs every hour whereas traditional transportation systems from metropolitan areas operate anywhere between every 15 to 30 minutes. 

My research will identify additional main components and potential solutions that are perpetuating this cycle of lacking transportation and resources that continue to affect the people in our communities. The concluding data of my research will be tested during a trial period and implemented into the Rapid City transportation system for optimization and fulfillment.

Figure 1: Rapid Ride Coolidge Route. This route was chosen for analysis because it’s the only bus route to the Rapid City Hospital. If route cycles increased from every hour to every half hour, that would double the number of opportunities for a senior citizen, veteran, or family member to access the hospital or any neighboring primary health care providers. 

Before operations begin, I must conduct preliminary, primary, and secondary research to record variables such as population, bus routes (Figure 2), traffic flow, topography, average age, access to transportation, zoning, etc. Additionally, I will observe location of medical facilities, pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, nursing homes, and other public service organizations and compare them to fixed points throughout the Rapid City region. Once operational, transportation services will be evaluated through surveys and assessments at the beginning and end of each program in order to monitor client progression and overall community statistics. I’ll eventually introduce our own CRM (customer relationship management software) database, which develops progress reports and logic models, providing funders, staff, board of directors, and public comprehensive data regarding recipient activities and outcomes. This will allow me to successfully track our volunteers, interns, donor information, grant information, and other programs. 

Figure 2: The Rapid Ride Master Bus Route Map. Illustrates the main 6 bus routes provided by Rapid Ride. The Rapid City community will benefit if the Rapid Ride system accommodates constituents who are deeper in residential neighborhoods instead of only staying on main roads. Map shows 0 routes to Rapid Valley, an integral component to the Rapid City community.

This project contributes to improving the collective good, including both individual and community lives, by solving a facet of one of Rapid City’s greatest challenges: reliable transportation. According to the US Census Bureau, around 20% of Rapid City’s residents are over the age of 65, 7,000+ of them are veterans, and there’s an average travel time to work of 16 minutes.

This data proves that a large portion of Rapid City citizens are senior citizens and veterans who live in rural areas, which can make it more challenging to receive essential needs for survival, such as access to primary healthcare providers, pharmacies, grocery stores, nursing homes, etc. Creating a network that will connect senior citizens with access to transportation to essential service vendors will be beneficial for the Rapid City community.

This is the final post in a series featuring STS 401 students’ capstone research projects. Please check out the first three posts, too:

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