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Navigator Transport launches pilot; rideshare service focuses on dementia patients

The Navigator Transport team. Photo supplied.

Aiming to help dementia patients back into the communities that they have felt separated from, Navigator Transportation has launched its pilot program in Milwaukee.

Dr. Bashir Easter’s vision has finally come to fruition with the ride-share style dementia patient transportation. He was inspired by his family’s own struggles with their mother’s dementia. After years of work to bring a level of care that does not exist anywhere else, the technology and support has finally caught up to the gap in dementia care that he saw years ago.

Easter, in collaboration with multiple organizations, has finally launched the pilot for Navigator Transportation. The project has been in the works for six years, but when Uber and Lyft started to gain popularity, the necessary technology to implement what he had in mind became accessible.

“Our vision is to empower and equip people of color to have an optimal quality of life… and (to) go around in the community and focus on getting people back in the community to reduce the stigma that they can’t get around,” Easter said. “We’re going to change that one ride at a time.”

The pilot program took to a local Milwaukee church that it has been working with to make the project happen. Community members, drivers, riders and partner organizations all came to speak on the efforts and what Navigator Transportation has gone through to start the service — but the community and personal ties are the heart of how it all works.

Easter’s inspiration for the project, beyond his mother’s experience with dementia, is grounded in his faith. Unity Gospel recognizes the role it plays to help the community and has been integral in advocating for the service.

Dr. Bashir Easter.

“When Dr. Bashir came to me and said what was on his heart to do, as a senior pastor, we deal with so many families that deal with Alzheimer’s to deal with dementia, and for me, it was a no brainer,” Pastor Marlon Lock said. “Oftentimes we can give people what the Bible says and how to deal with situations but to really have an outlet, something practical that they could put their hands on, with people that are trained in this area… it was an absolute yes.”

Drivers are all trained extensively, but a personal connection is what drives them. The drivers were already set on working with the service, but Easter pushed to find some way for them to get paid to provide transportation.

“My wife’s father has dementia. She was at one of Dr. Bashir’s very first meetings,” Ron Flagg, a driver for the service, said. “When my father-in-law developed dementia, it was all about his quality of life. I think we got involved because of that.”

Flagg is just one of 12 drivers. The roster of drivers goes through 72 hours of training to provide safe travels and informed care. The amount of training surpasses required training hours for Milwaukee public transportation services.

In addition to its dementia focus, Navigator transportation is a normal ride-share platform, too. Anyone can use the service, which is how it can afford to provide free transportation to dementia patients, and pay for fare with the option to donate to directly support its target riders.

But Navigator Transport will always be grounded in improving the quality of life for dementia patients. A great deal of consideration goes into how riders can be best served. The service leans into personalized playlists for dementia patients to help keep them grounded and aware. The riders are appreciative of the lengths that drivers go through to make them feel as safe and comfortable on their riders.

“The driver, Mr. Washington, is always on time and very proud. I’m always telling him, ‘You don’t have to get out and open the door for me.’ He always does,” Marie Taylor said. “He jumps out, opens the door, talks to you, talks about your family, your life. It is amazing. It really makes you feel really good, and safe — that’s the important part too.”

The commitment to creating the service for dementia patients, that does not exist anywhere else in the country, is being noticed by Milwaukee County. They are pushing Easter to commit to getting his roster of drivers up to 20 and find more regular dementia riders. Easter is happy to see the commitment from the local government to see the service grow.

The pilot for Navigator Transportation will continue as Easter and partners continue to improve the service. The goal is to continuously scale it across Wisconsin, more cities and states in the Midwest and eventually across the whole country.Rides are available now and can be booked through Navigator Transportation’s apps for Apple and Android devices.