COA awarded federal grant to improve seniors' access to transportation

Monday, July 15, 2019

Federal Transit Administration Facebook postCouncil on Aging (COA) is the recipient of a of $470,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The award is part of FTA’s Access and Mobility Partnership Grants which awarded approximately $9.6 million to 37 projects led by transit agencies, governmental authorities and nonprofit organizations to support innovative transportation solutions to expand access to health care. The awards were announced May 22

Council on Aging’s funding will be used to design and implement a centralized, on-demand transportation service to coordinate non-emergency medical transportation for older adults in COA’s service area, beginning with a pilot in the Hamilton County Elderly Services Program.

Council on Aging has long sought a way to improve transportation services for older adults and people with disabilities in the region. Census data and research show a growing population of older and disabled adults in the Greater Cincinnati region and a lack of confidence in the region’s transportation infrastructure to meet the growing need.

  • In 2015, the Cincinnati region was include in the annual United States of Aging survey, where local data found: “Older adults in Cincinnati express low confidence in their community’s preparedness, specifically with transportation and long-term care as they age.”
  • Transportation was identified as a top concern among respondents in COA’s 2018 Community Needs Assessment.
  • There are more than 804,000 people age 60 or older in Hamilton County and nearly 36,000 county residents age 65 or older have at least one disability. 
  • As an administrator of publicly-funded home and community-based care programs, COA is a significant transportation resource for seniors and people with disabilities in southwestern Ohio. In 2018, Council on Aging provided approximately 47,000 one way trips for non-emergency medical transportation to eligible older adults via Hamilton County’s Elderly Services Program, which is funded by a property tax levy.

Older adults who receive transportation through COA are not able to access other public transportation systems because they require door-to-door or other specialized transportation options. This limits their ability to access health care services that help them manage chronic health conditions and maintain their quality of life.

The transportation model used in the Hamilton County Elderly Services Program has gone largely unchanged for more than 20 years and is in need of modernization if it is to keep up with the demand created by the region’s growing older adult population.

In the program’s current system:

  • There are multiple transportation providers, but they operate independently, each using a different mechanism to optimize routes, focusing only on the customers they are assigned to assist and most often requiring advanced notice.
  • Many trips are one-way, with returns where there are no passengers on board.
  • Clients may wait for hours for a ride until their assigned provider is available.
  • Clients with complex medical needs don’t always have the ability to schedule appointments in advance, as required by most providers in the system. This can result in missed medical appointments, avoidable emergency room and hospital admissions and increased medical costs.

“We know that lack of transportation is major barrier to independence as people age,” said Council on Aging CEO, Suzanne Burke. “It limits an individual’s access to health care and also their choice of health care providers. We envision an on-demand transportation system that helps older adults and people with disabilities get where they need to go so they can remain independent in their communities for as long as possible. This grant will help us build that system.”

COA will use the FTA grant to build and pilot an on-demand, responsive transportation system in Hamilton County. The system will focus on non-emergency medical transportation for eligible clients in the Elderly Services Program. COA will partner with The Health Collaborative, the region’s health information exchange, to collect and analyze data, engage with other regional health care partners, and integrate on-demand transportation into the discharge planning process for area hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.

Through the new transportation system, COA will act as a centralized scheduling service, optimizing routes, schedules and existing provider vehicles to best meet the unique needs of older riders. COA will provide both on-demand and advance-scheduled trips, giving seniors more control over when trips are scheduled and allowing for last-minute schedule changes.

In addition to the $470,000 grant, COA will provide matching funds of approximately $400,000 and The Health Collaborative will contribute $4,000. The Hamilton County Elderly Services Program will continue to cover the cost of non-emergency medical transportation services provided to eligible older adults through the program.