St. Vincent's Hospital, Uber provide addicts with a ride

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - One northeast Ohio hospital is piloting a program that aims to eliminate a major barrier to drug addiction treatment – reliable transportation.

According to a survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reliable transportation to and from appointments is one of the top reasons why those addicted to drugs, who felt they needed treatment, did not receive it.

Angela, who asked Cleveland 19 not use her last name, said she tried to get clean from heroin and meth at least ten times over the past 14 years.

"I started using when I was like 10 or 11, and my addiction increased from there and I first started trying to get into treatment at about 19 years old," said Angela.  Now 33, she said transportation is really the difference between life and death. "We lose a lot of things in our addiction and it's hard for us to be able to have our license and have a car and have ways to and from. With that Uber program in place, it gives us those rides so we don't have to worry about them."

Since the new program started in mid-June, 15 patients have enrolled and have scheduled 171 rides and maintained a 100 percent attendance rate for appointments. In the 30 days before the program started, according to Rosary Hall, patients participated in outpatient treatment at a rate of 76 percent and participated at a rate of 62 percent in individual counseling sessions.

The manager of outpatient treatment services at the hospital, Orlando Howard, said that not only is Uber reliable and individualized, it eliminates potential problems to newly recovered addicts.

"When we talk about the bus passes [used previously] there’s a lot of stops between point A and point B and a lot happens between point A and point B versus Uber. Uber drivers pick our clients up directly from their front door and bring them directly from St. Vincent's Medical Center for their outpatient treatment," said Howard. "There's no stop in between, no triggers, no barriers, no temptations." 

Brittany Shartz, now a detox coach at St. Vincent's, went through the detox and treatment programs herself. She said she was lucky, her mom drove her to and from her intensive outpatient treatment appointments every single day. Remembering how much her mom helped her during that time brings tears to her eyes.

She said she knows she's uniquely lucky to have that type of support, and said she's seen between 30 and 40 percent of people drop out of treatment because they don't have reliable transportation.

"I don't know one person that I started with that's still sober, but If I had those programs in place I think that, that really wouldn't be the case," said Shartz.  "Every time somebody walks out of detox I almost have to assume they're going to die because of how bad it is right now... transportation is life or death for people."

According to the hospital, about 62 percent of patients successfully complete the intensive outpatient program at Rosary Hall, and for those who drop out, access to reliable transportation is the most frequent reason cited.

The hospital is applying for grants to pay for the pilot program and proponents of it say they hope to expand it in the future.

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