Bright Idea: Allen County’s Non-Emergent Transportation System

October 26, 2020

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The REACH Foundation is continually impressed with the bright ideas that come from our partners, and we want to share these smart ideas with others. Here is an idea that comes from our partners at Thrive Allen County, a rural health advocacy organization in Kansas.

The Issue

Allen County is a small county spread across 505 square miles in the southeastern portion of Kansas. Despite a population of less than 13,000 residents, the rural community suffers from poor and declining health outcomes, with 16.6% of the population living at or below the federal poverty level, and 18.1% adults reporting a disability. While residents have worked to break the cycle of poverty by improving economic opportunities, health care access, and recreation options, one pressing issue is a lack of transportation options. Currently, the only public transportation options include a free bike-share program, trips eligible for Medicaid reimbursement and a bus program limited to seniors aged 55 and older. This has created a situation where individuals cannot get to health care and safety net appointments because they have no reliable transportation options, further worsening overall health outcomes.

The Solution

Over the years, Thrive Allen County has made transportation a leading issue as part of its strategic plan. In 2019, Allen County’s Rural Health Initiative (RHI) group applied for funding from the National Center of Mobility Management (NCMM) to address non-emergent transportation needs. Through the grant application process, the RHI group gathered stories of community members facing health crises due to lack of transportation.

“[These stories] included a woman who waited three weeks to get to the grocery store because there was no one to take her, someone who missed multiple chemotherapy appointments in Kansas City because they lacked the transportation to get there, and many others who were experiencing social isolation because they had no way to access community events or friends and family members,” said Lisse Regehr, President and CEO.

Thrive received funding from NCMM and a $25,000 grant from the REACH Foundation to develop solutions for the community.


Thrive convened a coalition comprised of health care entities whose clients were affected by lack of non-emergent transportation, community members active within Allen County, and residents lacking transportation. The coalition worked with NCMM to create a viable transportation plan unique to the issues facing Allen County.

Two discrete transportation systems were established: A public transportation system overseen by the county and available to all Allen County residents for in-county transportation needs, and a non-emergent transportation system run by Thrive to provide transportation services to care coordination clients for medical and safety net appointments located outside of the county.

Thrive is currently in the process of finalizing an operations plan and launching a pilot program to test out both transportation systems. Part of this limited launch includes hiring a transportation coordinator who will oversee the pilot and renting a wheelchair accessible van to take individuals to their appointments.

Lessons Learned

The earliest and largest lesson learned was that a single transportation plan would not fully solve the transportation issues. Even with two pilot plans currently underway, large gaps in transportation services remain. Despite these challenges, Thrive has, to date, provided more than 25 rides throughout eastern and central Kansas, including to Kansas City, Wichita and Pittsburg, for residents needing transportation to health care and social services appointments.

Additionally, the Allen County Commission recently approved Thrive’s pursuit of Section 5311 funds for public transportation, marking the county’s first step toward all-inclusive public transportation. If awarded, the county will hire a driver and purchase a 14-passenger wheelchair accessible bus to begin transporting residents starting in July 2021. Regehr notes this step forward would not have been possible without the commitment of community partners.

For more information about Thrive Allen County, contact Jessica Thompson.

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