Sinai Chicago's new transportation service will offer patients door-to-door rides to and from any appointment in the health system. | Olivia Arns/ Sinai Chicago

A West Side hospital is giving free rides for patients to get to and from any medical appointment, eliminating a major obstacle stopping many Black and Latino Chicagoans from getting critical medical care.

All residents in Sinai Chicago’s service area who need to get to any of the medical system’s hospitals, clinics or offices for any procedure, check-up or health appointments can now get free, door-to-door transportation services. Patients can book a ride by calling (630) 903-2949.

The program is aimed at reducing health inequities that leave residents in parts of the West Side with a life expectancy 16 years shorter than those who live in affluent neighborhoods like Streeterville, according to a 2015 Virginia Commonwealth University report.

“Every single day, we see the end result of how transportation barriers impact people’s lives and livelihoods. Ultimately it translates into not having the same life expectancy of those living less than 10 miles away downtown,” said Airica Steed, chief operating officer for Sinai Chicago.

Sinai Chicago developed the transportation program after taking stock of the top reasons why patients in the communities they serve delay, cancel or miss vital health appointments. The hospital conducted outreach and organized focus groups to hear from patients and “drill down why the patient population was not showing up” to appointments, said Denise Walker, vice president for ambulatory a hospitality services for Sinai Chicago.

The health system’s outreach found that up to 17 percent had missed appointments due to transportation issues, which turned out to be among the top three impediments to getting the care they need.

Research from the American Hospital Association shows over 3.6 million people nationwide don’t obtain proper medical care each year due to transportation issues. The burden is especially hard on communities of color, making transportation a contributing cause of health inequities, Steed said.

“That’s further compounded in the most vulnerable communities for a variety of reasons including not having access to vehicles, not having the proper infrastructure, or being too far away from their healthcare providers, and the cost of transportation,” Steed said.

When people forego basic preventative health services and routine check-ups due to transportation barriers, the consequences can be serious, Steed said. When people are forced to put off a health issue until it’s too big to ignore, the treatments they often end up needing a higher level of care, Steed said.

“It exacerbates conditions that could otherwise be treated. Those patients later inadvertently end up in our emergency department … for reasons that otherwise could have been avoided,” Steed said.

The transportation services are provided by Superior Ambulance Service, which has worked with Sinai for at least 20 years.

Superior will provide a “fleet of dedicated vehicles and dedicated drivers specifically meant to pick up patients at home addresses coming in for diagnostic testing, outpatient, doctor appointments, any sort of visits that they have historically had difficulty in arranging for transportation,” said Mary Franco, vice president of Superior Air-Ground Ambulance Service.

Sinai’s transportation service “blankets the entire operation,” so there are practically no restrictions for which patients can use it and what programs, locations and services they can get a ride to. All patients 18 and older who live in the South and West Side communities served by the hospital can access the program, Walker said.

“It’s innovative because no one else is doing this for their entire enterprise. Other places, they have it smaller scale or just for one smaller subset of patients,” Walker said.

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