No ride, no health care: New project provides ‘mobility wallets’ to get residents to medical appointments

October 5, 2023
A young woman drives a passenger in her car. Image credit: iStock

Two University of Michigan researchers are part of a community-based research project to get Detroit- and Dallas-area residents to doctors’ appointments, pharmacies and other health care services that often are skipped or inaccessible due to a lack of transportation.

Researchers Tayo Fabusuyi, assistant research scientist at the U-M Transportation Research Institute, and Lu Wang, associate chair for research and professor of biostatistics at U-M’s School of Public Health, will analyze and document how health outcomes are impacted by mobility intervention. Statistics they will track include morbidity, mortality, loneliness, stress, life satisfaction, access to health care and missed health care appointments.

The project is funded by a recently announced 10-year, $12-million ComPASS grant from the National Institutes of Health. It will document changes—ideally improvements—in participants’ health once a new “mobility wallet” program is introduced. It is aimed at removing a leading barrier to healthcare access: transportation.

Feonix-Mobility Rising, the principal investigator of the grant and a nonprofit founded in 2018 with the goal of filling the transportation gap in social services, will partner with researchers from U-M, Michigan State University, Southern Methodist University and Texas A&M University.

Each partner will bring expertise to broaden transportation services and research and document the effectiveness of the project and the implementation of “mobility wallets,” which will be loaded with funds to pay for travel to doctor’s appointments, pharmacies and other destinations to meet their health and wellness needs. Rides under the new program may begin in both cities, Dallas and Detroit, by late spring or early summer 2024.

U-M’s Wang and Fabusuyi will serve as co-principal investigators on the project.

“By providing access to transportation and support in navigating resources, riders will experience improvements in health and well-being, and this project will focus on individuals with less privileged socioeconomic status and racial and ethnic minority groups in communities of persistent poverty and Justice40-identified disadvantaged communities,” Wang said.

“The aim is to reduce health disparities through enhanced mobility support and access. The goal is to advocate for the implementation of Transportation Assistance Hubs in Dallas, Texas, and Detroit, Michigan.”

ComPASS, which stands for Common Fund Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society, funds community-led research with the goal of studying and addressing systemic barriers and social determinants of health that connect one’s birthplace, hometown, work and social lives to health status and access to health care.

Feonix-Mobility Rising partners with communities across the U.S. to help solve mobility challenges by recruiting and training volunteers and working with transportation providers to offer free or low-cost rides to people lacking a way to doctors’ appointments, pharmacies and grocery stores.