Taking on Transit as a Barrier to Health

Identifying access to transportation as a barrier to health in the San Luis Valley, Regional Health Connector Dee Kessler has been a steadfast advocate and partner in introducing an affordable shuttle service to the San Luis Valley since joining the Regional Health Connector program in 2016.

Upon reviewing needs assessments and visiting with local services and coalitions, the lack of transportation emerged as a recurring area of concern among primary care and social service providers. Dee’s work to address access to transportation in San Luis Valley began by convening a group of social services directors from each of Region 8’s six counties as well as public health directors, representatives from three local hospitals, chamber of commerce representatives, and various other community members to discuss the issues around public and point-to-point transportation. It quickly became apparent that the road to affordable and wide-spread transportation access is long.Colorado Regional Health Connector Map Region 8

Regional Health Connector Dee Kessler serving Region 8, hosted by Rio Grande County Public Health Department

“Over three years, we met religiously. We invited CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) to our meetings and we invited the executive director from Neighbor to Neighbor in Chaffee County who told us how Neighbor to Neighbor had created Chaffee Shuttle starting out with one shuttle van concentrating on the Medicaid/Medicare population. Over 15 years, Connie grew the company getting more grant funding and a fleet of 15 shuttle vans. They [now] provide service to everyone in the Salida – Buena Vista area and other surrounding communities. This gave me hope as I truly believe, with enough time, support, and expertise, that we can build the same here in the San Luis Valley.” – Regional Health Connector, Dee Kessler

Convening frequently with community partners, a Regional Transit Group was formed that consulted with numerous cross-sector partners and existing transportation agencies within and outside of Colorado to explore sustainable transportation solutions for San Luis Valley. In 2019, the Western San Luis Valley Regional Transit Group that served the Saguache and Rio Grande county areas obtained funding for a transit study and became an active part of the Regional Transit Group in San Luis Valley. During this time, Chaffee County donated one of their shuttles to provide transportation service from Western San Luis Valley to both Alamosa and Salida two days per week. Combining forces with Chaffe Shuttle and with the support of the San Luis Valley Development Resource Group, the Regional Transit Group is now officially recognized as the San Luis Valley Regional Transit Advisory Council which grants the group representation at local Council of Government (COG) meetings and increases qualification for more grant funds.

Through continued partnership with Chaffee Shuttle, the service now provides two part-time shuttle services, expanding its routes in San Luis Valley to connect with the Bustang Outrider that provides transportation to the Front Range. While notable progress has been made in both service provision and building community support for affordable transportation solutions in San Luis Valley, Dee continues to fiercely advocate and participate in increasing access to transportation throughout San Luis Valley, noting that the introduction of shuttle services to the region not only improves access to primary care and social services but has also created a means of social connection for riders.

Built on the idea that a better-connected health system can help to improve the wellbeing of all people living in Colorado, the Regional Health Connector (RHC) program launched in 2015 with a mission to improve health across the state by developing an innovative workforce that is dedicated to connecting primary care, behavioral health, public health, social services and other community organizations. To learn more about Colorado’s Regional Health Connectors, visit the program’s webpage below.

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