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Program gives rides to health appointments

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Starting in May, low-income residents in all parts of Oklahoma will be able to catch a free ride to the doctor's office.

Sooner Ride, a Medicaid program that offers scheduled nonemergency rides to health-care sites, is scheduled to start service in the Panhandle May 1, completing total state coverage. The program has been in place throughout most of the state since June of last year.

Some 215,000 Oklahomans are eligible for SoonerRide, said program director Nelda Paden. The program pays about $430,000 each month to companies that provide cars, vans, taxis and buses for the rides.

Reservations for routine medical visits must be made between three and 14 days in advance.

Wilma Blaylock, 58, said she cannot drive after suffering severe injuries in a 1987 car accident and then breaking her hip in 1995.

She lives in the small eastern Oklahoma town of Panama, but said Sooner Ride gets her to health appointments in nearby Poteau and in Fort Smith, Ark.

"I don't know what I'd do without it," Blaylock said. "The program is fantastically helpful."

Passengers may be escorted by one attendant, since drivers cannot assist passengers with packages or bags.

Officials said passengers should show up at Sooner Ride stops 15 minutes prior to the pickup time, since early arrivals are possible.

Rides are offered Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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