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Monroe County partnership offers free rides to medical appointments

The Monroe County Transit Authority and the Pocono Mountains United Way will use a grant to get more residents to health-related appointments.
Haley O'Brien
he Monroe County Transit Authority and the Pocono Mountains United Way will use a grant to get more residents to health-related appointments.

Without a car, some residents in rural Pennsylvania have a hard time getting to medical appointments or the pharmacy. Organizations in Monroe County came together to reduce that barrier with free transportation.

The Pocono Mountains United Way (PMUW) and the Monroe County Transit Authority (MCTA) launched the “Care Connects” program on Oct. 2 with a $15,000 award from Sanofi.

Richard Schlameuss, MCTA’s chief executive officer, said research from regional health systems inspired the new service. Residents reported that using public transit to pick up prescriptions or see a doctor can be time-consuming and expensive, according to community health surveys conducted by Lehigh Valley Health Network.

“Looking at their data, we were able to determine that this is an important need in our community and we should try to do something about it,” Schlameuss said. “We pick them up at their home, bring them to their doctor’s appointment or to the pharmacy or to physical therapy and bring them back home again.”

Pennsylvania counties offer cheaper public transit fares for seniors and medical assistance recipients. But the United Way says there’s a growing segment in the state that typically doesn’t qualify for aid, because they earn incomes slightly above the federal poverty line.

Michael Tukeva, head of the Pocono Mountains United Way, said that the partnership with MCTA is meant to serve the ALICE population – or “Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed” – in the county.

“These are folks that are working in our community, but the furnace breaks or there’s a car issue and it fully upends their way of life,” Tukeva said. “This [partnership] is going to improve health outcomes.”

Tukeva added that about two out of five households in Monroe County live paycheck to paycheck. A 2023 United Way report broke down statistics for each county in Pennsylvania.

The Care Connects rides are free for those who qualify and should be scheduled in advance. Schlameuss encouraged Monroe County residents to apply for transit assistance even if they haven’t qualified in the past.

To sign up, call MCTA at (570) 839-6282 ext. 434.

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.