A Free Ride To Treatment For People In Recovery

By Britni de la Cretaz 07/25/17

A new program addresses the glaring transportation issue that many face when trying to attend treatment programs.

Young man holding cellphone hailing Uber

A new pilot program in Cleveland, Ohio is trying something novel to reduce dropout rates in their substance use treatment programs—providing free transportation via Uber.

According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, transportation is cited as the largest barrier to treatment for people who need it. St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is trying to address the issue by providing free Uber trips to and from appointments at Rosary Hall's Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP) program.

Via a partnership with a company called Circulation, they have created a HIPAA-compliant digital platform that connects Uber with patients and health care providers. Orlando S. Howard, outpatient manager at Rosary Hall, told Crain’s that the difference in attendance has been “amazing” since they started the pilot program one month ago.

In the first 30 days of the program, 11 patients have received 156 Uber rides, and none of them have missed a single IOP or counseling session. Contrast that with the 30-day period prior to the program, where there was 76% participation in IOP and 62% participation in counseling sessions.

Dr. Ted Parran, co-medical director of Rosary Hall, told Crain’s, "Missing an assessment is a disaster for a patient, and it's also a disaster for the program, because the program has scheduled a counselor's hour-and-a-half to two hours to do that assessment, and pushed other people who are calling for assessments down the road.”

The transportation barrier is one that has long been an issue. In methadone treatment, in particular, lack of access to reliable treatment to get to a clinic every day is one of the major reasons that patients drop out. If people cannot get to treatment, they cannot access or utilize it. Buses and public transportation can create too much temptation or feel too daunting for people in early recovery.

Freedom Machines, a non-profit out of Glens Falls, New York, fixes up bikes and gives them to people in recovery so that they have a reliable mode of transport in order to get to treatment, meetings, and job interviews.

In the first year of the Uber pilot program, St. Vincent’s is aiming to provide transportation for 228 clients to get to treatment. "It's going to make a huge difference," Howard told Crain’s. "As long as I've been in the treatment field for over 25 years, I've never seen anything as exciting as this."

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.