Medicaid-based medical transport service opens local office

James Fenton The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Sensing a local need by people with medical appointments but no means to get there, a Gallup-based transportation company has opened a satellite office in Farmington.

Shimá Transport, a Navajo-owned medical transport service in Gallup, opened an office on North Behrend Avenue in May.

The medical transportation service was launched in Gallup in 2013 by Thomas Thompson and members of his family, who said the lack of quality, reliable transportation services in that area prompted them to do it themselves.

Thompson said his family's business is an extension of a mobile catering service started 20 years ago by Thompson's mother and brother out of their home in Church Rock. Shimá translates to "my mother" in Navajo, a nod to the family orientation of the Thompsons' business origins, he said.

While the catering business continues, Thompson said the demand for transportation for people with medical appointments has grown in the last few years in and around San Juan County.

Shimá Transport's dual locations deliver about 80 clients a day on weekdays to a variety of nonemergency medical appointments throughout New Mexico and parts of Arizona. The company employs about 35 drivers and 10 office staff members at the two locations combined, he said. So far, the Farmington office handles about 20 percent of the company's clients, Thompson said.

People with state Medicaid, Centennial Care and other insurance coverage are accepted. There is no co-pay for the transportation service, Thompson said. Clients are asked to call or come by the office at least three days before a medical appointment to schedule a ride. The majority of Shimá Transport's drivers and staff members are fluent in English and Navajo, he said.

"We did recognize that there is a need and opportunity to serve people here in the Farmington area," Thompson said in a phone interview on Thursday. "We pick up and deliver curb to curb and door to door."

Common reasons to use the service include medical checkups, physical examinations and other scheduled medical appointments. However, the service does not take clients who have WIC — the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children — appointments, he said.

A rise in diabetes cases across tribal lands has increased the number of clients that Thompson's company drives to dialysis appointments, he said.

San Juan Regional Medical Center spokesman Haroon Ahmad said the hospital's delivery service is relatively smaller — it takes people within a 20-mile radius of Farmington, including Kirtland, Aztec, and Bloomfield — and has offered the service for 25 years.

The number of community members transported on a monthly basis varies but falls between four and seven individuals a day. It varies due to type of appointment, appointment length and the distance.

Transportation needs vary for different people, but factors like income, a person's age, health, mobility restrictions or access to a vehicle make services like Thompson's and the hospital's necessary, Ahmad said.

"There is a definite need for this service," Ahmad said in an email. "The van service fosters goodwill in the community and helps to alleviate transportation needs."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.