Filling in the Transportation Gap for Critical Medical Care

May 1, 2023

Filling in the Transportation Gap for Critical Medical Care

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer

Dialysis appointments. Physical therapy. Emergency dental. People in tough situations would not have access to these services without a ride to get them there.

This is where SORTS (Southern Oklahoma Rural Transportation System) by Big Five Community Services fills in the gap.

“Medicaid and Medicare will cover certain types of medical trips but not others,” explains Tanya Gleghorn, the Big Five Community Programs, Transportation and Housing Director.  “They also require a three-day notice for you to get transport. So if you wake up and need to go to the dentist today because you have an abscessed tooth you can’t get a ride. Without transportation, patients miss critical medical treatment or something that will help them rehabilitate.”

Emmy Ellis, SORTS bus rider

One client called in to the Big Five for help because she works full-time while helping care for her brother, a dialysis patient. Her taking off work to transport him three times per week to treatment wasn’t feasible. Now, the SORTS bus takes him back and forth, easing the burden on his caregiver sister and ensuring he doesn’t miss life-sustaining treatments.

While the SORTS transportation program is a large part of the Big Five, programs in this community action agency are vital for several aspects within the community:

  • Head Start for early childhood education
  • Public transportation
  • Housing projects
  • RX for Oklahoma prescription assistance
  • Senior medical transport
  • Family caregiver respite services
  • Outreach program for seniors
  • CHORE (voucher program) for errands, meal preparation, house cleaning, and yard work
  • Food pantries

Through the programs across their four-county service area, the Big Five served approximately 4,000 individuals in 2022. The transportation service logged 60,400 trips, and 4,898 of those trips were in Bryan County for medical needs.

Tanya, who has a history in the medical field and nonprofits, has worked at Big Five for the past 13 years. She wears multiple hats that keep her going in all directions every day. But the rewards are worthwhile.

“At the end of the day I can go home, lay my head on the pillow, and know we helped someone,” Tanya says. “That’s what makes me come back and do it the next day. Nonprofit work is difficult at times, especially because of funding issues. But then you get a phone call that says, ‘Without you guys, I could not have had XYZ service.’”

While the state funds 50% of their operational costs, Tanya and Big Five rely on local grant funding from places like the Texoma Health Foundation. THF helps fill in the gap for medical transportation through the SORTS program for those under 60 years of age.

“It’s difficult to find match partners and we don’t take those for granted at all,” Tanya says. “We are extremely appreciative of them. We would not be able to operate without them.”