Orlando VA has successfully adopted an innovative rideshare program.

It provides transportation to Veterans in critical need after being discharged from an inpatient stay, emergency department visit, or for assistance getting to and from a follow-up appointment related to their recent hospitalization.

“Once I heard about this option for Veterans to independently get to critical appointments, it was a no-brainer,” said Homeless Program Coordinator Jina Thalmann. “Not only has this program been good for Veterans who need it but it has been great for case managers. They now have more time for Veterans who have intensive needs.”

Veterans involved in the homeless program are not the only ones benefiting from this valuable resource. The program has spread to other areas of the health system now as well.

Patients who do not qualify for beneficiary travel

“Our emergency department seemed to always be struggling with patients who would arrive for urgent or emergent care and then after receiving treatment, they would have no way to get home safely due to personal transportation issues,” said Rachelle Flamio, social work supervisor. “They either had no vehicle, no loved one to come pick them up, did not qualify for beneficiary travel, or did not have the financial means to schedule a ride home for themselves.”

The emergency department was not the only other area of the medical center where staff were challenged, assisting Veterans in critical need who had no transportation.

Nurse Manager Pamela Kalemba explains that, “Prior to implementing the rideshare program, some Veterans would be admitted for inpatient treatment and then, at discharge, not be able to find a way home. We’d have to extend their stay with us until transportation services could be arranged for them.”

Since starting the program in 2021, staff have worked to identify other avenues to utilize the program to benefit Veterans.

Program valuable to older Veterans

According to Marsha Latham, social work supervisor at the Viera VA Outpatient Clinic, Veterans have also benefited from the program by receiving transportation to and from procedures scheduled at the main medical center in Lake Nona.

She explains that, “The rideshare program has been so valuable to many older Veterans who come into the clinic for primary and mental health care services but then need to be seen at Orlando VA for an inpatient procedure requiring them to be driven to and from.”

The rideshare program originated in 2017 at the Boston VA Healthcare System as a program assisting homeless Veterans. Charles Franklin, Innovation project manager for the VA New England Center for Innovation Excellence, has worked to build up the program nationally.

“In 2018 we started a seed project for homeless Veterans at two VA health care systems,” Franklin said. “We’ve spread the program to help Veterans return to work, for use getting home from inpatient stays and emergency room visits, and [we] are now working to assist Veterans in critical need, with substance use disorder and [those] who are dealing with food insecurity. Now, all VA networks across the country have access to this needed resource.”

Criteria required for program eligibility

To date, Orlando VA has coordinated thousands of rideshare arrangements for Veterans in critical need. The rideshare program allows for both scheduled and flexible transportation, and it lessens the burden on Veterans requiring medical treatment. Staff coordinate rideshare arrangements for Veterans when all other resources have been exhausted, and when no other options are available.

Veterans receiving care at the medical center do need to meet certain criteria to be considered eligible for the program. They must be in the process of being discharged from the emergency department, an inpatient stay, be scheduled for a follow-up appointment related to a recent hospital stay or be scheduled for an upcoming procedure. This service cannot be utilized for emergency medical needs.

For more information about the rideshare program, please contact the innovation project manager for the VA New England Center for Innovation and Excellence at: Charles.Franklin2@va.gov.

By Melanie L. Thomas

Public affairs officer, Orlando VA

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Published on Nov. 19, 2022

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One Comment

  1. James Fields November 21, 2022 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    great program, being a Veteran who sometimes needs a ride, this gives me hope that it will spread VA wide

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