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Wheelchair-accessible vans connect San Luis Valley residents to health care

© iStock - nevarpp

Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) The Valley-Wide Ride, a transportation service introduced last year to help San Luis Valley residents get to health centers, is booking more rides than ever with the addition of two wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Evelyn Wiant, marketing projects specialist for Valley-Wide Health Systems, said the program has been key for reducing one of the biggest barriers to care. Because the area is so spread out, getting to a doctor's appointment can mean a 30- to 45-minute drive, each way.

"A significant portion of our patients live at or below the poverty line," Wiant explained. "They may not have transportation of their own, or they may be elderly and unable to transport themselves."

More than 20% of residents served by Valley-Wide live below the federal poverty level, and Wiant pointed out even if reliable public transportation was available, many residents wouldn't be able to pay for it.

Valley-Wide was able to make its fleet wheelchair-accessible thanks in part to a grant from NextFifty Initiative, a Colorado-based private foundation.

Chandra Matthews, director of programs for the Initiative, said its Community Response Fund is designed to get dollars out quickly so organizations serving older adults have more options.

"And these funds are really designed to meet those one-time, immediate needs," Matthews emphasized. "They did that for Valley-Wide health systems in that we helped them purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle."

The Valley-Wide Ride is free, and available to anyone in the Alamosa, Monte Vista, San Luis, Antonito, and Lower Arkansas Valley area. Wiant added the service is not limited to trips to and from the health center.

"In addition to getting you to your appointment with your medical provider, we can take you to any other kind of medical appointment," Wiant stressed. "We can also take you to destinations that are considered wellness-related. We can take you to the gym or the grocery store. We can take you to the laundromat."