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Published on May 08, 2020

SeHealth faith-based transportation program awarded grant

SeHealth employees

Southeastern Health’s U-Care Connections program, which provides transportation to local health services, got a boost this week in the form of a $550,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

The Connections program is part of SeHealth’s Compassion for U initiative, which is led by SeHealth Coordinator of Pastoral Care Services Chaplain Dean Carter.

“Studies show that people who have access to a vehicle or to friends and family with a vehicle are more likely to use health care services than those without vehicle access,” said Carter. “Modes of transportation affect health care access too. People with reliable access to private transportation are more likely to go to a medical appointment than those who rely on public transportation.”

According to Carter, time and distance burdens are frequently cited by patients as a barrier to health care utilization. For vulnerable populations, transportation can be unaffordable. Vehicle ownership, cost of insurance, fees, and taxi fares can be expensive. Individuals vulnerable to transportation barriers are more likely to have low incomes and high expenses associated with comorbidities.

“In local context, Robeson County is the largest rural land mass area in the State of North Carolina, coupled with no public transportation offerings,” said Carter.

U-Care Connections volunteer drivers, also referred to as Connectors, undergo a criminal background and driving records check, annual drivers safety training, and visually inspect their own vehicles on a monthly schedule. These volunteers fall under the Pastoral Care Services department of SeHealth, providing volunteer hours and a vehicle, receiving gas mileage reimbursement only.

“The difference in our program is the encouragement given from the driver,” said Carter. “It is a wonderful service and missions opportunity for the driver to show compassion, caring and empathy to the transportation disadvantaged, helping those who have healthcare issues and are vulnerable to those needs remaining unmet. Our effort saves lives that would have faded away unnoticed.”

Some Connectors are pastors, many are not. Connectors are both male and female, ranging from middle age to early retirement, come from multiple racial backgrounds and geographical areas of the region.

“While the drivers are from a variety of different spiritual backgrounds, faith is an asset we would like to see in every driver,” added Carter.

Alisia Oxendine is the director over the Pastoral Care Services department at SeHealth and has watched the Connections program thrive.

“This program is true to its name in that it connects our faith community with those who are facing challenges related not only to their physical health, but, in many cases, also related to their spiritual health,” said Oxendine. “Placing these volunteers in their path provides them with a solution to their transportation issues to improve their health, while providing them with a listening ear and a resource for encouragement and support.”

SeHealth is collaborating with Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and the North Carolina Healthcare Association to research the findings of U-Care Connections for possible adaptation of a best practice to answer transportation disparities in other health care settings across the state.

“The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has been a huge supporter of our programs through grant awards for many, many years,” said SeHealth Foundation Executive Director Sissy Grantham. “It is through grants, like this one, that we are able to provide support to our community to expand access to much-needed health services which, in turn, greatly impacts efforts to improve our overall health.”

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust was established in 1947 and is now one of the largest private trusts in North Carolina. The Trust’s mission is to improve the health and quality of life of residents with low incomes in North Carolina. The Health Improvement in North Carolina program area supports community-wide health solutions across the state. The Local Impact in Forsyth County program area fosters equitable and sustainable solutions to ensure everyone in Forsyth County thrives. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. serves as the sole trustee.