LEXINGTON, Ky. – Getting COVID-19 information to the people that need it the most is not an easy task, but Louisville-based nonprofit Kentucky Voices for Health (KVH) has made its mission to do just that. 

What You Need To Know

  • Transportation barriers in Kentucky predate COVID-19 pandemic

  • Kentucky Voices for Health noticed breakdown in communication

  • Advocacy group updated list to make getting rides easier

  • Transportation behind only food assistance for what people need most during pandemic

KVH has been a voice of consumer advocates and a catalyst in health policy decision-making since 2007. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit and its nonpartisan coalition of more than 250 organizations and individuals aim to bring together advocates, community organizations, state agencies and policymakers to address the underlying causes of poor health by connecting Kentuckians with opportunities to make change through policy advocacy and information.

One of KVH’s more recent campaigns is spreading the word about free transportation options for people to and from COVID-19 vaccine sites.  

“Kentucky Voices for Health is not offering the physical free rides,” said Kelly Taulbee, KVH communications and development coordinator. “We are promoting and helping get the information out there so more people know about all of the opportunities they do have. Too many people assume they have to just figure it out on their own, so we have been coordinating with the state, as well as community health worker groups, to elevate the local transportation options available to Kentuckians.”

Kelly Taulbee, Communications and Development Coordinator, Kentucky Voices for Health (Kentucky Voices for Health)

Taulbee said the COVID-19 pandemic just expanded KVH’s mission to elevate transportation accessibility for Kentuckians, something she noted predates the start of the pandemic. 

“This has been a long-standing issue, and transportation is a barrier to so many things,” she said. “Individuals who are re-entering society from incarceration want to get a job and they need a ride, or if someone wants a ride to the grocery store – it’s the same with healthcare appointments and transportation.” 

Taulbee said that easy access to free transportation results in fewer missed appointments and better management of chronic diseases. During the pandemic and Kentucky being a primarily rural state, a significant portion of the population needs transportation assistance if they're going to get a vaccine, a COVID-19 test, or if they get sick. 

“There are options out there, mostly free, maybe all still free, but I'm sure as we crawl out of the pandemic, some costs will start to get reapplied,” she said. “There is an outdated list of local transportation providers that is a combination of the non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) that is offered to Medicaid recipients if they're eligible, but also just local transportation providers beyond NEMT. When we see things like that, we think it’s great that there is a phone number you can call in Hickman County and get a ride to the health department to get a COVID-19 vaccine. This is a beautiful thing. But, when you start calling through them, there were some breakdowns in the communication stream. We got involved when we realized the list hadn't been updated.” 

KVH began working to help get the listed as updated and accurate as possible so providers in cities, counties and at the state level so everyone is "on the same page," Taulbee said. 

“We are definitely trying to sound the alarm and share that phone number with folks,” she said. “It makes it so much easier when we can say, ‘Here is a phone number that will connect you with the local provider, and you can schedule a ride to your vaccine appointment.’”

Having a free ride to and from a vaccine appointment plays a part in combating hesitancy as well, Taulbee said, adding that the pandemic is at the point where encouraging vaccine confidence is of the utmost importance. 

“Most of the calls we get and comments that have been made on social media during the pandemic have been about food assistance,” Taulbee said. “But, we do get quite a bit about vaccine hesitancy. Transportation is something we're trying to instill; this is something that everyone deserves carte blanche. Everybody wants what's best for their families, and they should have the power to make those decisions. We are really trying to encourage things that might push somebody on the fence over the edge to get the vaccine. The quickest way for us to safely get Kentuckians to their vaccine appointments is by free rides and open, transparent communication about it. We live in a state where transportation is an overall barrier preventing Kentuckians from having a full ability to thrive. We can do better, and this is an opportunity to showcase that if people will use it.”

KVH urges people to call the state’s COVID-19 helpline at 1-855-598-2246 or peruse the list of transportation providers for assistance.