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UMaine Machias Intern Conducting Key Research on Public Transportation Issues in Washington County

Shannon Olson

Shannon Olson

From the University of Maine Machias: 
As part of the Hanley Center’s Undergraduate Leadership Initiative at Portland, University of Maine at Machias student Shannon Olson is conducting key research into public transportation in Washington County and how that affects rural health care.

Olson’s summer internship is being sponsored by Mark Green of Washington Hancock Community Agency and Alfred May of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the first time UMM has an intern in the distinguished Hanley Center’s program.

The Daniel Hanley Center for Health Leadership is a nonprofit, independent, statewide organization dedicated to supporting the transformation of Maine’s health and healthcare sectors. The Hanley internship program was created in 2011 in partnership with Maine colleges and universities by providing paid internships for students in various sites across the state. Hanley interns focus on how care is delivered and how health care policy is formed.

After a four-day application process, Olson, a senior from Cutler, obtained a paid, 10-week internship.

“It is very basic. If patients have transportation issues, they cannot get to their health care appointments,” Olson said. “We will be looking at the reasons behind cancelled or no-show appointments. It would be easy to just put out a survey and ask people to circle yes or no if they have transportation problems. But that doesn’t get them into the doctor’s office. We need to have an accurate picture of how many are not getting care because of transportation issues and we need to look at possible and probable solutions.”

Olson said that in rural Washington County the lack of insurance and a culture of independence often stalls adequate health care. “In discussing this, the lack of transportation to doctors’ appointments comes up every time.” She said some people feel that to use public transportation is actually taking a seat from someone who needs it more. She said key to the project will be raising awareness throughout the county about what is available. Many people do not know there is a taxi in Calais and a bus from Houlton that serves the Danforth area. “We need to simplify this process,” she said.

She will be looking at the following issues in Washington County:

  • Transportation needs by population group (older adults, maternal and child/family, working adults, disabled and medically dependent, adults with substance abuse, adults with behavioral health, etc.)
  • Transportation needs by sub-region of county
  • Successes and challenges of the current transportation system
  • Review of rural transportation models in Maine and U.S. that have been successful and are non-traditional (vehicle leasing, healthcare provider hub, etc.)

Olson and May said inadequate public transportation has been the topic of many countywide meetings in the pasts but solutions have not been clearly identified or initiated. Olson plans on visiting hospitals and health centers throughout the county to determine services provided, the challenges that patients and others face around transportation issues, and possible solutions.

May said that there is even the possibility that WHCA, through a countywide partnership with UMM, could provide routine transportation for UMM students. “We need to look at what is out there, what is happening now and how we can improve and build on that,” May said.

Lois-Ann Kuntz is Olson’s professor in the UMM Psychology and Community Studies Program. “Both (WHCA and Maine CDC) are already valued community partners,” Kuntz said, adding that the internship is an example of a mutually beneficial community partnership.

“We believe that this shared learning environment is crucial preparation for our majors,” Kuntz said. “The benefits flow to all parties as a social network is co-created. Students hone their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and gain assets including references and experiences to showcase for job interviews and graduate school applications. Faculty and community partners share knowledge that builds curriculum and provides contributions for projects that are on the ‘back burner’ due to lack of resources.  Potential employers are supported with more experienced job candidates, some of whom they helped train.”