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New Transit Service Steps Up to Fill Need for Low Income Patients

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A free medical transportation service based in Iowa City ended abruptly last month due to budget cutbacks. But IowaCare or VA patients in the Cedar Rapids area can get a new ride to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics next week.

The Corridor Medical Shuttle will run either transit buses or vans back and forth from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City every Tuesday and Thursday beginning January 29th. Each trip will leave Cedar Rapids at 8:30 a.m. and department the Iowa City VA Hospital at 3:00 p.m. and UIHC at 3:15 p.m.

The UIHC Patient Transportation Service started in 1932 and gave low income patients receiving state medical care rides from all parts of the state. The UIHC service ended December 31, 2012.

Gary Wallace, a Cedar Rapids IowaCare recipient, needed transportation following spinal surgery last year. As one of 68,000 Iowans receiving state health care he was required to go to University Hospitals to see any specialist. Wallace said when the university ran a van pickup service from homes to the hospital that wasn't a problem. But once it ended, he was definitely worried because he has both limited mobility and limited financial means.

Wallace said the new Corridor Medical Shuttle plan isn't as convenient, but it beats the alternative.

"What I was encouraged about was how the people at LIFTS were more than willing to work with us for the next few months while they're working the kinks out," Wallace said.

Both Linn County LIFTS, the paratransit service, and Neighborhood Transportation Service (NTS) will share the shuttle trips to and from Iowa City on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Those who need a ride to the UIHC or VA Hospital will need to go to the Cedar Rapids transit stop at 2nd Street and 12th Avenue S.E. to catch a ride.

NTS executive director Mike Barnhart said transit programs started getting lots of calls after the university service ended. But he's not sure how many patients will show up Tuesday looking for a ride.

"I wish I knew the answer to that question. I know the people who show upówe will give a ride to take care of their medical needs," Barnhart said.

Terry Bergen, who is part of the Transportation Advisory Group in Cedar Rapids, said the transit programs got $25,000 in funding to operating the shuttle program to the hospitals for 2013. Bergen said everyone would like to do more, but can't to start.

"It's an ideal situation if you could do it every day. But we weren't able to afford to do that so we'll do twice a week to start off with," Bergen said.

Wallace said having medical transportation just two days a week might mean some participants will need to rearrange some appointments. But he said it beats not having an affordable way to get to Iowa City at all for medical care.

While the university's transportation service was free to IowaCare patients, those riding the Corridor Medical Shuttle will have to pay $1.00 each way. The general public can also ride for $8.00 and all veterans can go for free.

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