By Torie Kranze, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated transportation issues frequently faced by hemodialysis patients, many of whom are missing sessions because they “don’t have a ride.” Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, has the highest rates of diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease in the country, which put kidney patients at higher risk for developing more serious coronavirus illness. Basically, New Orleans is a petri dish for COVID-19.
Transportation problems were already one of the most common barriers faced by low income communities to accessing timely and necessary medical care. For hemodialysis patients staying healthy depends on reliable transportation because they are required to visit a dialysis center three times a week. There have been many studies indicating that easy access to transportation is associated with greater quality of life and supports improved patient outcomes.
With grant funding, the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana (NKFL) is conducting a beta transportation study in New Orleans that will ensure patients have safe, reliable and on-time emergency transportation to and from dialysis. Our community’s stakeholders are focused on dependability and safety of rides, flexibility in ride scheduling, rider frustration with wait times and excessive costs.
NKFL staff has researched different transportation models and their outcomes. Over the next few weeks, we will identify a staff person at each dialysis unit in NOLA who will be responsible for executing the program in their unit and train them on how to use the system.
Once launched, we will review the overall success of the program and seek further funding to slowly expand the initiative throughout Louisiana. The success of the program has broad implications and increases opportunities for sustainability by looking beyond current transportation options.
NKF is also working on the national stage to help patients secure safe and affordable transportation to dialysis. Last month, NKF sent a series of letters to Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), asking that they pay for ground ambulance transportation for end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients who are COVID-19 positive or under investigation for COVID-19 and who may be unable to secure other transportation. As a result of that outreach, we have already heard from several MACs that they are looking at their policies for non-emergency ground ambulance transport. NKF is also working to ensure that dialysis patients who receive transportation through their state Medicaid program can either access their usual non-emergency medical transport (NEMT) or have an alternative option.
We ask that you and the rest of the kidney community keep sharing your stories of achievements and challenges with us, and please reach out directly if you need any assistance. We all stand ready to help you in this time of need!