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Mississippi Offers Free Uber Rides to County Health Departments Amid 50% No-Show Rate

State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney seated in his office
The Mississippi State Department of Health is now funding free Uber rides to help residents get to doctor’s appointments at their local county health departments. Dr. Daniel Edney, the state health officer, said the program was designed to reduce the number of people who do not show up to their appointments. Photo courtesy MSDH

Mississippians can now get free Uber rides to appointments at their county health departments. The program is part of the Mississippi State Department of Health’s efforts to reduce the number of people who do not show up to doctor’s appointments.

Mississippi’s county health departments have about a 50% no-show rate. That is “excessively high for health care,” State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney said at a virtual press conference on Nov. 1.

Edney said he does not have an estimate for how many people will use the new Transportation to Health program, but predicted it will benefit a lot of people who currently have transportation issues and miss their appointments.

“The potential is to double the number of patients we see at the (county) health departments,” he said. “… At the health department, we are intentionally overbooking (appointments) because we know right now half our folks won’t be able to show.”

People can call MSDH at 855-767-0170 to schedule appointments at the county health department and an Uber ride at the same time instead of downloading the Uber app. MSDH does not limit the number of rides a person can take for free, MSDH Chief of Community Health, Clinical Services and Health Services Dr. Victor Sutton said.

“If they have services that require them to come to the health department, they’ll be eligible for transportation,” he said at a virtual press conference on Nov. 1.

For regular Uber rides, a person may have to wait a few minutes for a driver to pick them up, but Sutton said Mississippians will not have to wait for the Uber ride to the health department because people have to make appointments to get transportation.

A federal grant is funding up to $1 million for MSDH to use within a year for the Uber services.

The funds might not last the whole year, but Edney said he would see that as a win. If the Transportation to Health program proves to be beneficial for Mississippians, MSDH could extend it and even partner with another ride-share service if Uber does not want to renew the contract.

The state health officer said MSDH is primarily targeting people who have STDs, those planning to or who already have babies, and Mississippians who are uninsured or are on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. As the state continues to see increasing numbers of syphilis cases, including among newborns, Edney said he hopes people with syphilis will use the Uber service if they need a ride to the health department.

“I’m convinced it’s going to improve access to public health for citizens, especially our more rural counties, but for all of those who have transportation issues that commonly plague us,” he said.

Edney said he cannot promise that the program will work the same in every county, especially in rural areas, but said progress now is better than perfection later.

“I’m commonly asked, ‘Well, how will Uber work in Tallahatchie County, where there’s not an Uber driver?’ I don’t know if there is or not. I don’t know if there is today, but as this program gets more robust, … I can promise you there will be more than one Uber driver in Tallahatchie County where today there’s not one,” he said.

Mississippians can call the Mississippi State Department of Health at 855-767-0170 to schedule an appointment at the county health department and an Uber ride at the same time.

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