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Patients get a LIFT

TriMet pilot project at OHSU will free up hospital space during period of extreme demand
A large blue and orange van labeled 'TriMet Lift' sits parked outside of OHSU hospital.
Beginning today, TriMet is helping to free up space during a period of extreme demand by providing rides to qualified patients who need a lift following discharge. (Erik Robinson/OHSU)

Thanks to a new pilot project that TriMet started today with Oregon Health & Science University, many patients at OHSU Hospital will be transported home or to skilled nursing facilities as soon as they’re ready for discharge.

The service enables OHSU to free up space during a period of extreme demand.

“This will help reduce the strain of demand on acute care beds,” said Connie Amos, OHSU senior director for post-acute care strategy. “It will help us to start moving these patients quickly at the right time to the right location.”

Right now, many patients who don’t have family members in the area or with special needs have to wait potentially hours for a ride. Removing this obstacle allows hospital beds to be freed up for patients currently “boarding” in temporary space in the hospital’s emergency department.

OHSU and other Oregon hospitals are under severe strain due to an unprecedented surge in cases of COVID-19 that now fills more than half of the total number of intensive care units in the state.

Freeing up space in a hospital can be accomplished in one of two ways:

  • Fewer admissions: Oregonians take actions to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – as well as other actions to reduce unnecessary trauma leading to hospitalization – and, therefore, reduce the number of people who need to be admitted to the hospital in the first place.
  • More discharges: It’s important to efficiently discharge patients who no longer need hospital care.

That’s where TriMet LIFT comes in.

At a time when demand for hospital beds has never been higher, TriMet has established a new pilot project with OHSU to provide free transportation for patients who qualify. Amos and TriMet officials estimate the service will initially move as many as 10 people a day – a not-insignificant proportion of the 80 or so people discharged on an average day from OHSU Hospital.

TriMet sees this as another in a series of initiatives intended to serve the community during a crisis, said Tia York, public information officer for the agency.

“Ridership really started going down last March. Rather than having our buses sit idle in the yards, we started looking for opportunities to put our employees to work during the pandemic,” York said. “This is another opportunity we’ve been exploring and deepening partnerships throughout the community so we can be part of the solution.”

The agency also delivered meals on wheels, ferried customers to mass vaccination sites, and provided free grocery delivery service to customers of its LIFT paratransit system. LIFT is designed as a shared-ride service for people who are unable to use regular buses and trains due to a disability or disabling health condition.

The new service to OHSU will run Monday through Friday, delivering discharged patients to homes and skilled nursing facilities within TriMet’s three-county service area. York said TriMet will continue the service for as long as it’s needed.

For OHSU, the service will benefit patients waiting to be admitted. Amos said it will also benefit those who are being discharged because many are headed to rehabilitation centers, and an early start means the patient can get started on therapy the same day they’re discharged from the hospital.

“This will allow our environmental services teams and our nursing teams to get that room ready for the next patient to come in,” Amos said. “TriMet answered the call to help during this public health emergency. It’s amazing.”

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