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Whistlestop to offer health appointment transit

Whistlestop to offer health appointment transitWhistlestop is seeking to prevent North Bay residents from missing medical and social services appointments through a new ride program launching in 2020.

The San Rafael-based nonprofit organization, which aims to increase the independence of local senior and disabled residents, has already been testing the program with local health care partners, including Marin Community Clinics and MarinHealth, since 2018.

“I believe that some folks certainly have transportation as a barrier to their getting needed medical and social services,” said Mitesh Popat, chief executive of Marin Community Clinics. “To the extent you can provide transportation helps break that barrier down.”

Nancy Geisse, Whistlestop’s chief operating officer, said the results so far show that missed appointments among patients has been reduced “considerably.”

When patients miss their appointments because they don’t have the physical or financial means to get a ride, it causes a ripple effect through the medical system, Geisse said. Missed appointments can put the patients at greater risk of serious ailments that may require emergency care, which can come at a cost to the patient, health care provider and insurance providers.

Missing appointments can also result in some residents losing benefits if they miss certain deadlines, said Kari Beuerman, assistant director of Marin County Health and Human Services.

“Whistlestop is a great local resource,” she said. “They are a well-trusted and respected provider. Here at HHS, we have a great partnership and working relationship with them. We absolutely applaud their efforts to expand their services.”

The new ride program works by allowing not only patients, but also doctors and discharge nurses, to call Whistlestop’s call center and request a ride for patients to their appointment such as a doctor’s visit. The program would be administered through the MediCal system, Geisse said, which covers transportation to appointments for those who qualify for the public health insurance program. However, it would not be limited to MediCal patients.

In addition, Whistlestop is expanding on its program to transport residents to adult day centers in Marin, Sonoma and San Francisco counties.

Whistlestop is in negotiations with a third local health care provider in Marin as well as three others in Sonoma County, where it is working to establish a location in Santa Rosa next year, Geisse said. The nonprofit recently expanded its ride service in San Francisco to take residents to adult day centers. The new service is expected to launch sometime in early 2020 in all three counties.

The new ride service is meant to work concurrently with Whistlestop’s other services, which include meal delivery, bus and carpool services, classes and social gatherings. Together, the programs seek to ensure residents have access to health care, nutrition and socialization, which Geisse said are key to living a healthy life.

“If you don’t have transportation you can’t access the social determinants of health,” Geisse said.

Other services in the region also provide similar ride services, though Geisse said it’s still not enough to meet the needs of the community.

Marin County’s Aging and Adult Services Division has a contract with the Bay Area-based Jewish Family and Children Services to provide assisted transportation.

Aging and Adult Services division staffer Jenay Cottrell said the county is aware of Whistlestop’s efforts and the recent pilot tests funded by a Marin Community Foundation grant.

She said Whistlestop “is very active in finding ways to expand what it does around a model that would enable it to get reimbursements for providing services that address social determinants of health.”

Correction: Whistlestop’s new medical transportation service will be available based on
need and is not limited to MediCal patients. An article Tuesday incorrectly described the eligibility requirements.

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