May 11, 2020

Public health authorities step up to supply PPE for medical transportation providers

Driver with personal protective equipmentAs the healthcare system begins reopening for non-urgent services, medical transportation providers in Eastern Oregon have received a critical shipment of protective supplies from the region’s public health departments in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI) administers the Non-Emergent Medical Transportation (NEMT) program on behalf of Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization, which serves 12 rural and frontier counties. GOBHI partners with local transportation companies to provide free rides for Oregon Health Plan members to and from scheduled medical appointments. 

After surveying providers and assessing the situation, GOBHI recognized a severe shortage of PPE for NEMT drivers across its contracted provider network. Per guidance from the Oregon Health Authority, GOBHI submitted requests to public authorities for access to supplies. 

Public health leaders rose to the challenge. Since April, public health entities in multiple counties have donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Supplies will be used to fulfill immediate needs in protecting the health and safety of drivers and members.

“Ensuring safety for our Members and drivers while providing non-emergency medical transportation is of utmost importance to GOBHI during this pandemic,” said Karen Wheeler, Chief Executive Officer of GOBHI.

John Shafer, a Umatilla County Commissioner and member of the GOBHI Board of Directors, said, “Public health departments across Eastern Oregon are often going above and beyond their mission. On a normal day, nobody knows they are even there. This recent example is only one of many I could point to that protects the safety of our front-line service professionals and the community members they serve. Public health has always been a crucial piece of the healthcare continuum, and COVID-19 has only emphasized its importance in this time of need.”

Kimberly Lindsay, Community Mental Health Program Director for Morrow County and GOBHI board member, said, “Community Counseling Solutions was beyond thrilled to learn of Morrow County Public Health’s donation of PPE to the NEMT program. NEMT provides a vital service to some of the most vulnerable members of our population.” 

As of May 5, public health departments from the following counties have donated PPE to the NEMT program: Harney, Lake, Morrow, Umatilla, and Union counties.

In total, the donated supplies include 1,000 protective masks, as well as shipments of gloves and hand sanitizer. GOBHI has received enough supplies for a forecasted 12,541 rides, approximately one month’s needs. The program continues to reach out to counties for PPE needs during COVID-19.

Ensuring safety for our Members and drivers while providing non-emergency medical transportation is of utmost importance to GOBHI during this pandemic” 
Karen Wheeler, GOBHI CEO

Facing COVID-19: NEMT Update

During the COVID-19 pandemic, NEMT and behavioral health service providers continue to provide essential services, working on the front lines responding to behavioral health crises, providing intensive care management for individuals with serious and persistent mental illnesses, and driving people to serious, though not immediately emergent, medical appointments for healthcare services that must be performed. 

As of May 1, healthcare providers may perform certain elective procedures if they meet the criteria outlined in Gov. Kate Brown’s recent executive order. The Governor’s guidance lifts restrictions on such services while also requiring providers to take various precautions, such as ensuring hospital capacity and adequate supplies of PPE. 

GOBHI NEMT staff expect an uptick in calls and rides due to pent up demand for services.

Transportation providers within GOBHI’s provider network have ramped up precautions to protect the health and safety of drivers and members, following state and federal health guidelines. Precautions include frequently cleaning and disinfecting vehicle surfaces, providing masks and gloves to both drivers and patients, and educating staff and volunteers on the latest state-approved protocols.

To learn more about accessing rides to medical appointments, call GOBHI’s NEMT department at 1-877-875-4657 or visit www.gobhi.org/nemt. Emailed questions should be directed to cross@gobhi.org.

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