When Staying Healthy Depends on Whether You Can Get a Ride

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PBS Newshour - Laura Santhanam

COAL RUN VILLAGE, Kentucky — Two hours before sunrise, Mike Steele locked the front door of his tan brick house and shuffled past the red rose bushes he planted with his wife. In the dark, he walked to the white 10-passenger van parked next to his home and climbed into the driver’s seat. On this Wednesday, the temperature hovered just above freezing. He turned his key in the ignition, cranked up the heat and drove. At 5 a.m., few lights shone inside his neighbors’ homes.

The night before, he received today’s schedule: three patients, all of whom lived roughly 40 miles away and none of whom owned cars. Bobbing up and down steep hills, on narrow roads that wrap around mountains long mined for coal, it will take more than an hour to reach those patients, who qualify for transportation for a variety of health professionals through Medicaid.

For nearly seven years, Steele has driven a van five days a week for Sandy Valley Transportation Services, providing patients in remote reaches of Kentucky with access to a range of medical services, from surgical follow-ups to addiction treatment to routine vision appointments.

Across the country, but especially in rural regions, having a reliable vehicle can make or break your health; according to a 2015 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, an estimated 3.6 million Americans forgo medical care because they lack transportation.

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