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Solving the Catskills Transportation Problem: Rural Communities, Addiction and HealthFree Access

Op Ed

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One of the major factors in determining the health of people in a rural community is transportation; or the lack of it.

A lack of affordable transportation options can complicate health problems for people by making it difficult for them to get to healthcare appointments, to obtain necessary medications, and to generally care for themselves in order to lead healthier lives. It’s a common problem in rural communities, and Delaware County is no exception. Transportation was one of the priority issues considered at the Community Action Summit on Addiction Prevention and Treatment held in January.

The topic was raised as a vital issue for addressing the addiction crisis in our community. Lack of readily available and affordable public transportation makes it difficult for people with addictions to access treatment; particularly when medication assisted treatments (MAT) such as methadone or suboxone require daily or weekly trips to get the medication, and when outpatient counseling is done in person. Lack of transportation can also prevent attendance at support groups such as weekly Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

For people whose entry into treatment and recovery is through the criminal justice system, the Delaware County Drug Court requires regular testing and court appearances. At the summit, people reported being unable to get to drug testing or court appearances because they have no access to transportation. Clearly, transportation plays a key role in successful recovery from addiction.

Community engagement barrier

At the Eastern Delaware County Coalition on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (EDCCSAPT) we have also heard from young people that the lack of transportation in our region is a barrier that kept them from being more engaged in their communities. Such engagement is key to preventing them from becoming so-called “disconnected youth;” young people between the ages of 16 and 24 years old who are not in school, not working, and are at a particularly high risk of living in poverty, substance use and addiction.

A lack of transportation is also connected to an epidemic of hunger in the region. When people are struggling to feed their families, maintaining personal health often falls by the wayside. Almost 30 percent of children in Delaware County live in poverty, and 52 percent are eligible for free or reducedprice lunches, according to the County Health Rankings (www.countyhealthrankings.org). According to Joyce St. George, one of the founders of the Community Food Pantry (and also a member of the Steering Committee for the Eastern Delaware County Coalition), simply offering free food to those in need isn’t enough. Often, people have no way to come to the pantry to pick it up. To address this need, the food pantry has developed its own delivery service, bringing food directly to families in their homes.

After years of starts and stops, there are fresh efforts to find solutions to the region’s transportation barriers.

The Margaretville Hospital Auxiliary’s Wellness Committee has been discussing possible solutions and the issue will be a topic at the fall Local Government Day sponsored by the Catskill Watershed Corporation in October. According to Carol O’Beirne, the executive director of the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, the chamber and two scenic byway groups in the Catskills have a transportation committee that has been discussing various transportation issues. O’Beirne also noted that Congressman Antonio Delgado is on the House of Representatives’ Transportation Committee and may be a resource on this issue.

EDCCSAPT now has a workgroup on transportation that arose from the summit. The group welcomes interested community members who would like to organize possible solutions to this problem. Anyone with an idea for how to create affordable and effective transportation solutions in the Catskills, or anyone who simply wants to get involved can email the coalition at EDCCSAPT@gmail.com or email Julia directly at reischel@gmail.com, or call 845.586.6183.

Transportation is an issue for many rural communities. Our community is ready to tackle it.

Together we can solve this problem.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was written by Julia Reischel and Diana Mason for the EDCCSAPT.

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