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Startup to launch pilot providing transportation for people with dementia

A group of trainees prepares to become drivers for Navigator Transportation in Milwaukee. Photo supplied.

Improved quality of life and awareness for dementia patients. Navigator Transportation, a new startup in Milwaukee, will try to tackle informed care and transportation to support the underserved dementia community.

The ride-share service will launch a pilot next month to provide transportation with a focus on dementia patients. The service will be free for dementia patients but is a paid ride-share service for anyone to help fund its intended target.

Navigator Transportation is a project from Melanin Minded’s CEO Bashir Easter. His inspiration for the project came after him and his family were left confused and addled over how to provide for their mother. Eighteen years ago, she was diagnosed with dementia and Easter’s journey to find adequate care for dementia patients started.

“I was in my 30s and my mother had diabetes, but she wasn’t maintaining her A1C. She had got ulcers on the bottom of her feet where they were going to amputate her leg. We were confused because she had a medical background and we didn’t understand why she wasn’t taking care of herself,” Easter said. “After her surgery she wasn’t speaking, and they stated it was the anesthesia — it was going to wear off. It never wore off right the next day. She was still confused, not speaking.”

Easter and his siblings were confused about the situation at hand. The next day they took their mother back to the doctor where they diagnosed her with dementia.

“We were like, ‘well what medication does she need to get? What do you mean dementia? What is that? And when you mean she has lived with us? What are you talking about? She just came here a day ago had surgery and now she can’t live by herself,’” Easter said. “So we thought it was malpractice.”

Easter’s family left with more questions than answers. They were not provided with the adequate information for services and resources for taking care of their mother. When Easter started to work for the Milwaukee County Department of Aging things started to click, but that was five years later.

Easter was made aware of a slew of resources available for dementia patients that he was not made aware of at a vital time for him and his family. As he progressively learned more of the disease his mother suffered from, he came across data for the prevalence of dementia in people of color. He learned that African Americans, Asians, Latinx and Native Americans are impacted at higher rates than white communities.

“I got so angry. And I was like ‘why is no one talking about this?’” Easter said. “Then I looked at the resources that were being connected and a lot of the resources were for our Caucasians brothers and sisters because they leaned into the research. They asked the questions, they got the support and our people of color were just stagnant.”

He saw a missing piece from the services for dementia patients — transportation.

While there are ways to help provide transportation to dementia patients, services are mostly tied to friends, family, taxis and public transpiration. It was a hard idea to allow someone with a neurological condition, like Easter’s mother and so many more, to be placed in the hands of a taxi or a bus with the hopes that everything will be fine. Easter came up with a plan to tackle this.

When Uber blew up internationally in 2015, Easter saw it as an opportunity. He worked to try and set something up with Milwaukee County that was inevitably quashed, but he never forgot about the project. The largest component to creating a transportation service was the technology to implement it. In 2020, Easter was able to source the technology to pick up Navigator Transportation again.

“And now we have the same technology as Uber and Lyft. We’re now partnered with Direct Supply, Milwaukee County… Azura, Unity Gospel House of Prayer… Synergy Home Health and Project Pitch It,” Easter said.

The project he tried to launch years ago is now slowly becoming a reality. Navigator Transportation is now getting ready for a pilot program. Drivers have been found and trained to provide care for dementia patients.

Easter is working with various organizations and families to test out the ride-share service. Navigator Transportation’s pilot will start in July and services 20 families that are dealing with dementia. His plan is to expand it across Milwaukee, scale it across Wisconsin and then eventually the Midwest. The pilot extends through September, at which point Easter will reevaluate to prepare for a larger launch.