For people in Kansas City with an intellectual disability or behavioral health diagnosis, getting to and from work, school and other critical services can present many barriers.
Many people don’t have driver’s licenses, and public transportation isn’t always a viable option, especially if work hours are outside traditional hours or distances are long. In some cases, COVID-19 has made these obstacles more severe by changing living arrangements or work requirements.
Chris Metz noticed this in his own battle with mental health issues. After a period of recovery, Mays fell into trouble and ended up in the hospital. Mays said he found stable ground through a program at the Johnson County Mental Health Center that trains people to work as drivers and provides one-on-one peer support to center clients.
Now, he’s sharing his life experiences to help others with behavioral health diagnoses or intellectual disabilities.
“This is more than just a taxi service, this is rehabilitating people,” said Mays, who has been a driver for the program for about six years. “It gets them started. Little by little, it takes another step. It helps people become successful, really.”
Since the early 1990s, the Corey M. Stoltz Transportation Program has provided a way to get Johnson County Mental Health Center clients where they need to go. The program also provides rides to UnitedHealthcare Medicaid enrollees.
The program saw more than 60 peers receive driver training and provide one-on-one peer support, completing 35,069 rides in 2023, well exceeding the target of 23,500 rides. For example, the driver fleet’s on-time performance is as high as 95%, which is more consistent than the RideKC bus system.
There are an average of approximately 145 ride requests per day, seven days a week. Mays said he usually completes about 10 to 12 rides a day. He was one of three riders to complete more than 2,000 rides last year.
Mays said the rides allow him to go places caseworkers typically can’t go by sharing his story.
“Most drivers keep a pretty casual attitude and if they open up we can really make a difference in their lives,” he said. “I help them with ideas for self-care or where to go for treatment.”
Helping individuals overcome current transportation barriers so they can get to work, school, and other appointments can help achieve great self-sufficiency. The process has been therapeutic even for Mays, who says he ends each day feeling better than when he started.
Additionally, the program provides employment opportunities for those who become peer experts. Drivers can only work 20 hours a week at first, but like Mace, start out part-time and can eventually become full-time employees.
Mackenzie Robinson, case manager and assistant director of the program, said providing drivers with employment opportunities and watching their own journeys is a huge benefit of the service.
“We have the best riders in the world. They are not here to work, they are here to help people. Their hearts are in the right place and that plays a big role in the service they provide. They can do more than average There are far more Ubers.”
By 2024, the transportation team hopes to continue growing, with a stated goal of accepting 40,500 ride requests, a 20% increase from 2023, while maintaining an on-time performance of 95%. To achieve that goal, Johnson County hopes to add 10 more drivers and seven more vehicles.
In addition, project leaders are forming a Working Hard to Securing Long-Term Solutions (WHEELS) committee, consisting of three fellow drivers and a dispatcher, who will gather regularly to solicit input on what is working well or could feedback for improvements and consider other ways to expand the program beyond their current goals.
You can contact Transportation Services at 913-826-4078 to request a ride.