By Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4) – Transportation issues prevented nearly 300,000 Coloradans from getting the health care they needed in 2017, according to a survey by the Colorado Health Institute.

(credit: CBS)

In an effort to change that, Denver Health has teamed up with Lyft to provide complimentary rides to and from the hospital.

The Denver Health Foundation has paid for more than 4,000 rides since the collaboration started in 2016. The idea is offer transportation for patients to get to routine health care so they don’t skip appointments and end up in the emergency department.

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Melissa Diaz is grateful for the service. She struggles to get around. She has a seizure disorder and doesn’t drive. Scoliosis, curvature of her spine, causes her pain that can be excruciating.

“Sometimes I can’t sleep at night,” Diaz told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

On the day they met, the 37-year-old mother had a physical therapy appointment. She got free rides to and from Denver Health with Lyft.

She said, without the service, “I would have to wait for my husband to get a day off and it probably wouldn’t be for another month or so.”

(credit: CBS)

The Denver Health Foundation pays for the rides for patients in need.

“A one car family or a no car family or they might be new to the United States and having challenges finding transportation,” said Amy Friedman, Chief Experience Officer at Denver Health.

(credit: CBS)

She explained that staff members call for a car through a special website. She said using Lyft cuts down on missed appointments and hours spent waiting for rides home.

“To have a ride show up in less than 5 minutes, it’s a win for the staff and a win for the patients,” said Friedman. “Denver Health was one of the first partnerships of this type,” said Gabe Cohen, General Manager, Rockies Region for Lyft.

CBS4’s Kathy Walsh interviews Gabe Cohen. (credit: CBS)

“This is a way we can use what’s our super power which is transportation and Denver Health’s super power which is serving this community,” Cohen said.

It is giving Melissa Diaz the power to better stand on her own.

“It’ll help me get that confidence back that I once had doing what I have to do,” she said.

The free rides are for a 20-mile radius from the hospital. According to Friedman, in January, the Foundation will no longer have to pay as the rides will become part of a state Medicaid benefit passed by the legislature.

Kathy Walsh is CBS4’s Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 since 1984. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.