Alyssa Sutton

Union County’s Rides to Wellness program is just days away from kick-starting a pilot program designed to help people with chronic illnesses.

Since its inception in 2014, Northeast Oregon Public Transit’s Rides for Wellness program has offered non-emergency medical rides to Union County residents. The service provides medical transportation in Union County and as far away as Portland, Idaho and Washington. The program is funded by various grants, and clients pay only a small fare.

“Rides to Wellness is meant to alleviate people’s transportation barriers to receiving medical care,” said NEOPT Manager Angie Peters.

The successful program is now being adapted to better serve the particular needs of the chronically ill, such as those who need transportation to receive dialysis or chemotherapy.

“We’re going to start a research project to find out how we can serve (patients) better.” Peters said. “This is for patients who struggle with the current program.”

The Rides to Wellness program presently charges a $3 fare to and from the rider’s destination, but even this small fee can add up quickly if the patient receives treatment more than once a week. In addition, people with chronic illnesses, who often have unique transportation needs, would benefit from a more extensive and flexible transportation program.

NEOPT hopes to figure out how best to meet the transportation needs of this population by participating in research initiated by Portland’s Ride Connection –– a program similar to Union County’s Ride to Wellness.

In 2013, Ride Connection received a grant to investigate the transportation needs of individuals who regularly receive dialysis treatment. The research goal of the Dahlia Project was to identify major obstacles to transportation, recruit both patients and drivers to participate in surveys and to adjust services based on the results. The next step in the Dahlia Project is to conduct a pilot program in two urban and two rural counties, one of which will be Union County.

See complete story in Monday's Observer