For many cancer patients, the main obstacle to getting treatment in Philadelphia is not health insurance, side effects, or lack of therapies.
"Twenty percent of appointments are canceled because patients can't get there," said Gerald Furgione.
As executive director of Phillycarshare, Furgione has figured out a way to help: Enlist volunteers to drive cancer patients to treatment in car-share vehicles, at no cost to the drivers or riders.
The Phillypatientride program, believed to be unique in the United States, will hit the road Jan. 4. Reduced car-share fees will be covered by the American Cancer Society, Hahnemann University Hospital, and Temple University Hospital.
Phillycarshare, a nonprofit created in 2002 to reduce car dependence, will provide a coordinator who will match drivers with patients referred by Temple, Hahnemann, the University of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson University.
"The hospitals say they have an unlimited number of people who need this type of assistance," Furgione said.
Many cancer patients become too weak to safely drive themselves. Yet the alternatives - paying for a taxi, or relying on family and friends to rearrange their schedules - can be a logistical and financial nightmare. Radiation typically involves daily treatment for up to eight weeks, while chemotherapy may be weekly for months.
"It's amazing that something as simple as a ride can help change someone's life," said Furgione, whose father and numerous friends are cancer survivors.
The American Cancer Society was receptive when he first floated his idea about two years ago. Now, many meetings later, the hope is that 360 rides will be provided in the first eight weeks. Recruitment of drivers began this month and has already enlisted 30 volunteers, half of them regular car-share members.
How big the program grows remains to be seen. Phillycarshare has a fleet of 200 cars, 13,000 members, and it is reaching out to retiree groups and colleges for volunteers.
"The thing is, this is just one disease," Furgione said. "If the model works, this could be something that could grow and expand."