AUSTIN, Texas - As the cost of living rises in Travis County, many of Central Health’s patients are moving away from the urban core and farther from the medical services they need. Travis County’s health district is now looking at how they can get around the challenge.

Central Health and its affiliate, CommUnityCare Health Centers, are extending a pilot program that offers free transportation services to their patients who have medical appointments. The shuttle picks patients up right at their door and goes to and from the Central Health Southeast Health & Wellness Center on Montopolis Drive.

Originally, in July, the pilot went to two designated sites in Elroy and Horsby, but was expanded to all patients with transportation needs in the county. In addition, the service was supposed to end last month, but was continued due to increased ridership.

“A lot of our patients are medically complex. So, it’s not like they’re coming one time, they’re needing to come several times and when we’re looking back they wouldn’t have been able to come to those multiple visits had it not been for us having this,” said Elizabeth Marrero, program director.

The health district serves people who are low-income or uninsured.

“They might not know where their next meal is coming from. They may be employed and looking for work. They’re not in the best medical situation, there may be something going on, that’s really scary and stressful. Just having one less thing to try to manage has been a big relief for them,” Marrero said.

Central Health allocated $19,000 to fund the pilot, and added an additional $9,000 for the extension. Marrero said working to reduce transportation barriers to health care access can actually save money in the long term. 

"When people are going untreated, they’re going to end up in the hospital  and they’re going to end up in the emergency room. They’re going to end up getting treated eventually, because these health issues don't go away on their own," she said. 

Since July, they have been offering more than 170 individual rides to their Southeast Health & Wellness Center. The pilot program ends December 31.

CommUnityCare patients who have medical appointments at the Central Health Southeast Health & Wellness Center can call (512) 978-8576 to schedule transportation. Transportation is available Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.