Recently I have been working on a program evaluation of a Boston-based non-profit organization’s Medical Escort program. This program is considered to be a door-through-door service aimed at assisting older and disabled adults to medical appointments. Unlike senior vans, hospital shuttles, or even door-to-door options, the key component of this door-through-door transportation is ongoing assistance. Trained volunteers help you out of your home, into the car or bus, through the hospital or office, wait in the waiting room, assist in the exam room, help pick up prescriptions, and make sure you are settled once you get back home. FriendshipWorks, Inc (the organization studied) along with Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, are the only two companies in Massachusetts that provide this personalized and supportive form of transportation. Still, MA is luck to even have two of these programs available since door-through-door options are fairly uncommon throughout the country.

One of the major findings of our evaluation showed that older and disabled adults are actually stressed or anxious about scheduling medical appointments and this stems largely from feeling helpless or dependent. They don’t know how they will get there, who to ask for help, or whether to bother family and friends. When we asked about missed appointments they said quite frankly, “No, that never happens because I don’t schedule the appointment until I am sure I have a ride. If I don’t have a ride, I don’t plan on going.” Overwhelmingly the recipients of this service and the volunteers providing the assistance feel these individuals would not have been able to get to their needed medical visits without the program.

Some hospital policies, such as a requirement to have someone assist you home after a procedure, add to this stress especially when you have no one in your life.  The people using this program are very isolated and disadvantaged. Most have never married and are low income, living alone and disabled. 45% of them have no one living nearby that they can call on for help. 20% have only one person to fill this role.

Senior transportation has been deemed the #1 priority in Massachusetts, #3 in the nation, beating out both Social Security and Medicare. If people cannot get to the programs and services we are creating for them, what’s the point?