Latino Nonprofit Will Give Free Rides to Doctor Appointments


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Bus service is slow and sporadic in eastern Suffolk County, N.Y. A 15-minute drive can take two hours by bus.

This makes it hard to get to a doctor for people in this 19% Latino county.

County legislator Bridget Fleming speaks to Bryan Atancuri, a student and bus rider, in September 2017 (via Stephen J Kotz Sag Harbor Express).

Take it from Byrony Freij, a local Spanish-speaking pediatric counselor. She told Newsday that some households share one car, which is usually in use during the day. Undocumented residents avoid driving. Hours on a bus to visit a pediatrician is difficult for mothers recovering from childbirth.

That’s why Freij is happy to see that nonprofit Organización Latino-Americana is launching a free transportation program to help Latino and all residents get to pediatric and other doctor appointments.

“It’s a huge relief,” Freji told Newsday. “But it’s a shame that it has to be a nonprofit that is bringing this forth, rather than a government agency.”

How did a nonprofit, with limited resources, make it happen?

The Crisis of Limited Transportation Options

Housing, utilities, food and gasoline are not cheap. These costs, plus limited access to public transportation, create financial problems for low-income families in Suffolk County, according to a local health assessment.

Financial issues also strain a family’s ability to access healthcare.

This is especially true for Latino families.

Latino families face many challenges in the eastern-county towns of Southhampton and East Hampton. These towns have the highest concentration of children living in poverty and the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the county. More than 67% of Latinos participate in federal food assistance. The unintended pregnancy rate for Latinas (30.5%) is double that of non-Latinas (15.2%). The rate of adolescent pregnancies among Latinas (39.4%) is more than quadruple that of non-Latinas (7.7%). The county has one of the worst ozone pollution rates in New York.

On top of all this, transportation is a major challenge.

Few primary care clinics or providers are willing to see Medicaid patients in this area. Many patients travel up to three hours to access care, according to a recent local needs assessment.

Most local transportation companies are private and serve limited populations or only the towns where they are based.

Although Suffolk County officials recognize the need for transportation options to improve health, they cut 10 bus routes in 2016. Other bus routes have sat unchanged for decades despite demographic shifts.

That’s when Minerva Perez stepped in.

Free Rides to Doctor Appointments

Minerva Perez (via Sag Harbor Express)
Minerva Perez (via Sag Harbor Express)

Perez is the executive director of Organización Latino-Americana (OLA), a nonprofit group that promotes social, economic, cultural, and educational development for the region’s Latino communities.

Perez had an idea to start a free ride program to help local Latinos in Southhampton and East Hampton get to pediatric and other doctor appointments.

In early 2018, two donations got her idea rolling.

One couple donated their 2005 seven-seat minivan. An anonymous donor gave $15,000.

This allowed Perez to get the vehicle insured and registered, and hire a drive to give free rides on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

County legislator Bridget Fleming likes Organización Latino-Americana’s free ride service.

But Fleming hopes county can refine its bus routes to better serve the community, Newsday reports. Fleming created a new committee to evaluate the current bus system and find ways to improve routes and ridership. In 2017, she even got money to study the feasibility of installing sidewalks and bus shelters along a dangerous road in Southampton, according to

Others want the county to step up, too.

One group has organized multiple Facebook events encouraging residents to attend a Public Works, Transportation and Energy Committee meeting. There, residents can speak directly to those in charge of the Suffolk County Transit bus system. The host of the Facebook events page provides information about the committee, the agenda, the time and location, and the process to speak up.

Will you speak up to local transportation authorities in Suffolk County—or your local city?!

By The Numbers By The Numbers



of Latinos rely on public transit (compared to 14% of whites).

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