River Cities transportation

It’s easy to take for granted the simplicity of jumping in your car and running everyday errands.

For some, however, a lack of transportation can translate into a lowered quality of life. They may even forfeit regular doctor’s appointments. This is a negative social determinant of health — an adverse circumstance of life that affects a person’s overall well-being.

According to American Public Health Association, 5.8 million people in the U.S. delayed medical care because they didn’t have transportation in 2017.

“If people don’t have access to transportation, they can’t get to health care facilities for follow-up care, which greatly impacts their health,” said Lindsey Meyers, Vice President of Public Relations and Communications for Avera, and who also leads the Community Partnership team. “Delayed care leads to more health issues and health expenses over time.“

Shedding light on health-related injustices and working to improve those issues align with Avera’s focus to move health forward for all individuals.

Bridging the Gap Between Home and Health Care

To address this concern, Avera financially supports several nonprofits that are filling this gap in our communities. Some of these entities are:

  • Project CAR, in partnership with Charis Ministry Partners, in Sioux Falls
  • River Cities Public Transit in Pierre and Yankton — which transport people up to a 200-mile radius for health visits
  • Aberdeen Ride Line

These services, such as the Aberdeen Ride Line, provide safe and affordable transportation to people who need assistance moving from home to health care due to disability or absence of means.

Healthy Rides with Project CAR

Project CAR started in the 1980s with courtesy rides to church, but has grown to serve people asking for local transportation to doctor’s appointments, stores, job interviews and more. The Healthy Rides branch of Project CAR is responsible for health-related appointments, with dozens of rides coordinated weekly.

“Every year, the number of rides continues to go up,” said Bill Bradfeldt, Project CAR Board Member. “When we started Healthy Rides in August 2011, we gave 16 rides. In year 2021, we did 1,800 to Avera alone.”

Bradfeldt said once you get involved, you realize adequate transportation is a sorely missed amenity for some. It affects the older population and those who are disabled and unable to drive, to those who can’t afford to purchase, maintain and fuel a decent vehicle.

Project CAR also extends services to high school students enrolled in Avera Academy, an educational program that allows high school seniors who are low income, first-generation Americans or having other challenges to explore careers in health care. Every Friday during the school year, Project CAR picks up students and drops them off at an Avera location for their session, then drives them back to their school.

“Project CAR provides a convenient service to those that need consistent and reliable transportation, which has included our students,” said Shantel Krebs, Avera Academy Administrator. “We are grateful for their service.”

Saving Lives with River Cities Public Transit

River Cities Public Transit based in Pierre also drives patients to their appointments, with a reach of 200 miles in every direction. They accomplish this feat by managing a number of transportation companies around the region. Between staff and volunteers, they’re nearing 30,000 health-related rides each year.

One location River Cities Public Transit serves is the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “We asked the community what these people did before we started coordinating rides for dialysis and other appointments,” said Adam Sharkey, River Cities Public Transit Deputy Director. “The response? ‘They died.’”

When Avera Cancer Institute in Pierre opened, a partnership emerged to ensure patients could attend their radiation, chemo or doctor’s appointments. Avera provided most of the volunteers, while River Cities Public Transit supplied the training and vehicles.

But what makes River Cities Public Transit unique is their dedication to identify the needs of the community and build their fleet to accommodate people of all ages, health conditions or assistive devices.

“Being able to serve people where they’re at was very important to us,” said Sharkey. “We have vehicles capable of transporting people in wheelchairs and even beds.”

And for those behind the wheel, it’s more than just a trip. “When you’re driving for hours, or giving multiple rides to the same patient, you really get to know them,” Sharkey said. “They become friends and you’re part of their journey.”