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Aurora shuttle service aims to connect patients with health care

Originally published on January 29, 2020 by Chicago Tribune. Written by David Sharos.

VNA Health Care Aurora has begun a new shuttle service to bring patients from their homes to its care centers.

Officials from VNA were joined recently by city officials, Aurora Township representatives and executives from Pace Suburban Bus to launch the program.

VNA Health Care is the largest Federally Qualified Health Center in the suburban Chicago area.

Chrissie Howorth, vice president of philanthropy and communications for VNA, said at least a year was spent working with partners to bring the program to fruition.

“The biggest hurdle was finding the funding for this service and there are a number of participants,” Howorth said. “The VNA is dedicated to providing care for those with limited resources and this is a wonderful opportunity to increase our ability to help those who struggle to get the vital health care they need.”

CEO of VNA Linnea Windel said the program would annually cost about $55,000 and that riders would pay a fee of $3 per ride.

“Pace is the major funder of this program and is picking up the shortfall,” Windel said. “The township is going to provide drivers and handle the dispatch, but Pace gave a direct grant worth about $35,000 to fund the program. We’re looking at this as a pilot program, and we’ll see how the first year goes.”

Windel said that the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School reports that every year, “approximately 3.6 million Americans – urban and rural – miss or delay essential, non-emergency medical care because they experience transportation barriers.”

“We know that 12% to 15% of the people that come here have to get rides, take a taxi or walk or bicycle, and we understand transportation is a known contributor for delayed or skipped health care,” she said. “We’re excited to lower the barrier to the care some aren’t getting.”

Pace Executive Director Rocky Donahue confirmed that the $35,000 grant would be reviewed in a year but left little doubt about its future if the need is shown.

“We had a fixed route here before just outside the building and it was cancelled as ridership didn’t warrant it,” Donahue said. “About three years ago the VNA and other constituents came to Pace and asked about the route and we said the data we had about ridership didn’t support it. Since then, the city and the township stepped up and asked us if we’d get involved.

“We know that the majority of the VNA patients are low income and don’t have the time or the transportation to get here,” he said. “It’s not sexy to ride the bus, but if the demand is there in a year and funding is needed, we’ll find it.”

Bill Catching, supervisor for Aurora Township, said the township’s contribution would include drivers and dispatch service as well as providing the vehicle itself.

“We have seven full-time drivers and know this will provide a big service to the community,” he said.

Ald. Michael Saville, 6th Ward, applauded the program in his ward and said that “the City Council and the Fox Valley region have come a long way” in helping those who can’t afford it get the medical care they need.

“People back home that couldn’t get the health care they need now can, and this represents a great collaboration,” he said.

Aurora Deputy Mayor Chuck Nelson summed up the new initiative, calling it “an investment in the community.”

“This thing really started back in August of 2018 when the VNA sent case studies to us after a couple of routes from Pace were eliminated,” he said. “When people are able to come together and collaborate, good things can happen.”

David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.

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