While urban areas face the brunt of substance abuse, rural areas face unique challenges. Around 6.5 million rural Americans face mental illness or substance use disorder (SUD), yet are four times less likely to receive treatment than their urban counterparts.
A primary problem in rural areas like the Coastal Bend Region of Texas is inadequate transportation. Here rural public transportation is limited, and, in some cases, uninsured patients are transferred to mental health facilities in the back of a police cruiser because there are no other options.
This article examines the complexity of SUD treatment in rural areas and highlights how Feonix – Mobility Rising can address them.
Alarming Statistics on SUD and Poverty in the Coastal Bend Region
In the Coastal Bend, SUD is linked to broader socio-economic challenges, with 33% of children living below the Federal poverty line and 20% of households dependent on food stamps.
SUD rates are high—4.4% among Medicare recipients, surpassing the national average (3.5%). In Aransas County, SUD prevalence is as high as 6.2%. Nearby, Nueces County has among the highest opioid overdose death rates in Texas.
The interplay between poverty and SUD is critical. Texans living in poverty are seven times more likely to use Methamphetamine, making the area’s average poverty rate of 21.14% a critical factor. This convergence of poverty and SUD heightens the need for urgent, comprehensive solutions.
Existing Services for Patients
Organizations like the Coastal Plains Community Center (CPCC) and United Connections Counseling (UCC) are working together to provide a range of services for SUD in the area.
Despite their efforts, navigating this intricate system of resources, agencies, and referrals can be confusing for both patients and healthcare providers. This results in patients falling through the cracks and providers being uncertain about the continuity of care.
One major contributor to this problem is the lack of reliable transportation, an issue that Feonix – Mobility Rising aims to address.
Amy Pina, Clinic Director for Coastal Plains Community Center shares “Lack of transportation is a critical factor influencing an individual’s overall health. Having access to transportation is fundamental in assisting our consumers with meeting their needs and reducing risk factors that influence choices directly related to recovery. Having efficient and accessible transportation through Feonix increases an individual’s success towards recovery, enabling them to improve physical and mental wellbeing by escaping the cycle of poor access to resources within our rural community.”
Impacts of Transportation Gaps on Rural SUD Patients
Beyond logistics, effective transportation has the potential to impact SUD treatment outcomes.
Rural residents in the U.S. are less likely to receive mental health and SUD treatment than those in urban areas, despite similar rates of mental illness. This gap is due in large part to transportation and its associated time and financial costs for patients.
Improved access is directly linked to fewer missed appointments and longer durations in treatment, factors that strongly predict outcomes like reduced criminal activity, and employment rates.
Several studies corroborate the impact of travel distances on treatment; clients traveling less than a mile to treatment are 50% more likely to complete treatment than those traveling farther.
“Ride coordination for our clients has had a significant impact in reducing those trying day-to-day stressors that transportation gaps bring forth. The project allows a sense of empowerment as it allows participants to be able to take their physical, mental and wellness needs into their own hands. Employment-wise clients have expressed feelings of security and confidence being able to obtain reliable, consistent transportation that can open avenues for higher paying jobs.” says Belinda Morris, United Connections Counseling.
This underscores the need for solutions that make comprehensive care more accessible.
Impacts on Rural SUD Clinics and Providers
If clients are unable to access services, it affects clinics’ ability to generate revenue. Operating at low volumes makes it unsustainable to remain in business, exacerbating existing gaps in provision.
The issue of patient no-shows in addiction treatment is particularly problematic. Research reveals that 29-42% of patients miss their first appointment, while up to 50% do not return for their second. To counteract this, clinics adopt an overbooking strategy which reduces no-show rates and helps them to stay in business.
However, this practice of overbooking, coupled with a high rate of no-shows, introduces additional complexities – disrupting the continuity of care and posing challenges to effective treatment over the long term. Furthermore, it muddies the waters in terms of tracking patient demand and uptake of services, complicating clinics’ ability to adapt and plan.
The Role of Feonix in Uniting Patients with Services
Feonix is on a mission to bridge gaps in access to SUD treatment. “Thanks to the HRSA, we are able to fund this groundbreaking program to reduce existing transportation inequities,” says Valerie Lefler, CEO and Executive Director.
In partnership with CPCC and UCC, Feonix is pioneering a comprehensive approach to enhancing SUD services. This collaboration streamlines the fragmented SUD treatment landscape. By integrating transportation services, Feonix eliminates a key barrier to healthcare.
Feonix’s fleet, sponsored in part by Toyota North America Financial Services, consists of trained drivers who provide discreet, compassionate rides for patients. This ensures seamless coordination and care continuity among case managers, social workers, and healthcare providers.
With plans to scale the project, Feonix aims to expand comprehensive healthcare accessibility in rural communities. “Our goal is to use the funding and research as a catalyst to facilitate healthcare transportation for anyone in need in the rural regions of the Coastal Bend and beyond.” Lefler adds.