Forty-year-old local resident Mike, checked his cell phone recently, just outside the main entrance to St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, while waiting for an Uber car to pull up.
“Hi I’m Michael,” he said as he greeted the Uber driver before jumping into the back seat of the dark grey sedan.
Mike, who asked us not to use his last name, is fighting drug addiction. Like many people who hit rock bottom, the lack of transportation was a major barrier preventing him from completing drug addiction treatment, he said.
St. Vincent began using Uber and Lyft rides for patients involved in intensive outpatient drug treatment, about a year ago to help eliminate the transportation barrier for its patients.
The rides were provided free of charge to Mike while he attended drug counseling and treatment.
Mike said he couldn’t endure the pain and hopelessness of being hooked on drugs. So he checked in the detox program at Rosary Hall – located in St. Vincent. Then came intensive outpatient counseling – four to five days a week.
He also moved to a sober living house, which is a group home for people recovering from addiction. That’s when things really get hard for patients going through drug treatment, remarked Orlando Howard, Rosary Hall Outpatient Treatment Manager.
Temptation is everywhere, he said.
“Actually getting from the sober home to the bus stop can be a challenge. Because we have clients who tell us that Mr. Howard, when I leave the sober house, I’m stopped by at least three drug dealers asking me do I need anything or in street slang ‘are you straight?’,” Howard said.
By the time, people make it to Rosary Hall they are often financially devastated so even paying for bus fare is challenging, he said.
“Our clients who have substance use disorders have burned all their bridges. In most cases, they didn’t just burn them they blew them up. So they don’t have mama, daddy, husband, wife, sister, and brother there to support them anymore.”
Another patient, 50-year-old Alice, had several failed attempts to get clean, but this time she is close to completing her outpatient counseling at Rosary Hall. The free rides to St. Vincent and then back home again have made a difference, she said.
“If I’m out on the bus I might have a thought (and) say, oh wow, I could stop this place and this place and that’s not good for me,” Alice said.
The Uber/Lyft ride program began as a pilot project in 2017 to see if it would help increase attendance rates of patients in counseling, said Dr. Ted Parran, Associate Medical Director of Rosary Hall.
“There is a fair amount of research that shows that completing an IOP program, intensive outpatient program, is one of the strongest predictors of success,” Parran said.
So far this year the attendance rate for patients coming to counseling with the help of the ride service is 90 percent, according to St. Vincent officials.
Before the Uber/Lyft program started last year, the attendance rate for the counseling sessions was 76 percent.
Other hospitals use these ride services to help patients get to chemotherapy and other services, but St. Vincent’s program is unique, Howard said.
“The program we developed here, which by the way is the first in the nation for substance abuse treatment facility to do this, has been a benefit to our clients because we’ve seen an increase in the number of people who are actually attending treatment and completing it,” he said.
The program is funded with grants, including $45,000 from the Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County, which paid for the pilot program last year.
For the patients who are using the ride service, however, it is about more than dollars and cents. Mike said completing treatment has given him hope and some peace.
“It was really hard and I’m really happy today to be in a better place. And my life is nothing like I want it to be ultimately but it’s a lot better than it was,” he said.