How a Patient Navigator Helped With Transportation

Ryan Summers* has been vision impaired all his life. He has a detached retina in his left eye and has had three cornea transplants. Once he got the UPMC for Life plan, he started seeing doctors at the UPMC Eye Center. But he almost missed his appointments due to lack of transportation. Thankfully, Patient Navigator Dana McGinnis-Thomas was notified on September 8, and immediately got on the case.

First, in advance of his September 28 appointment, she scanned the ACCESS ADA application to his endocrinologist’s office, where they had Summers sign. The next day, when McGinnis-Thomas contacted him, he worried about being unable to attend appointments. Now that he is not working, the situation is even more challenging.

McGinnis-Thomas helped Summers complete the application questions over the phone. The application was then faxed to ACCESS, which has 21 days to process.

In November, Summers had an interview with ACCESS to ensure his eligibility for the program. He was not sure whether he would have a companion to bring him to his upcoming surgery and was thinking about cancelling it. McGinnis-Thomas sent a referral to Life Pittsburgh, which provides transportation.

Several days later, McGinnis-Thomas asked local churches to ask if a parishioner from the church would accompany Summers to his surgery. Unfortunately, the four churches she contacted were unable to find anyone due to COVID concerns. As a result, Summers paid a cab service a large amount of money ($200) to accompany him to the surgery.

About a week later, Summers was deemed eligible for ACCESS. McGinnis-Thomas set up his e-purse account online with his information so he would have available funds when he needed to use the transportation service.

“She went above and beyond to get me connected with ACCESS” Summers says.

As everything started to fall into place, Summers was at ease knowing he had reliable transportation that would not cost him a lot of money, McGinnis-Thomas says.

She continues to look ahead at his upcoming appointments and schedules his rides. She then contacts him to let him know the pick-up and drop off times. His blood draw appointments are also coordinated with his eye appointments to make rides easier and to avoid having to withdraw money from his e-purse account on two different occasions.

To keep patients from falling through the cracks and to help them benefit from community resources, the position of Patient Navigator was created two years ago under the leadership of José-Alain Sahel, MD, Distinguished Professor and Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh. The Eye & Ear Foundation received funding from several donors for the position, in addition to primary support from board member Nancy Washington and support from the Hillman Foundation.

Having a patient navigator’s assistance is very important to Summers. “It saves me money and stress to make sure I get to where I need to go,” he says. His eyesight is not good enough to have a license, so he really needs the help, he says.

“I think the service is phenomenal and very valuable to people who need it,” he adds.

*Name changed to protect privacy