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How does Atlanta transportation affect public health? GSU researchers want to know

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After $250K grant, study subjects could earn free MARTA passes, cash, transportation counseling, and more

MARTA train on rails.
Easy access to clinics and hospitals promotes health, the logic goes.
Curbed Atlanta

Georgia State University’s Urban Studies Institute recently secured a $250,000 grant that will allow researchers to examine how access to transportation impacts public health in Atlanta and beyond.

The 18-month program, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Systems for Action initiative, aims to study 600 Grady Memorial Hospital patients, in an effort to determine how people are getting to appointments, and how they might benefit from certain mobility options.

The patients eligible for the study would be low-income diabetic patients at Grady, according to Chris Wyczalkowski, a post-doctoral researcher at GSU who’s helping lead the study.

“One of the issues comes up over and over is these low-income people can’t make their appointments, and there are detrimental health outcomes for not coming to an appointment,” he told Curbed Atlanta.

The new study, part of a partnership with Grady, MARTA, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and health-centric nonprofit ARCHI, would “test the effects of several mobility support options on the health behaviors, use of healthcare and health outcomes” of the patients, according to a GSU press release.

Wyczalkowski said the subjects would be broken into five groups: One would receive MARTA passes, another ride-haling vouchers; another gets cash, and one would be provided with transportation counseling—lessons on how to use the city’s transit systems, essentially.

Then, of course, there would be a control group.

“We can actually test, whether, by doing this, we’re having an actual impact on their health,” Wyczalkowski said.

One pertinent question: Could becoming more familiar with MARTA or comfortable using Uber or Lyft help curb emergency room visits?

“A lot of people won’t come to a health clinic or a hospital because they have trouble getting there,” Wyczalkowski said.

That hesitance, he noted, can lead to conditions worsening.

The study’s endgame would not necessarily provide recommendations for transportation infrastructure improvements; rather, it would allow leaders in metro Atlanta and elsewhere to better grasp how mobility and public health correlate.

“This whole idea started from food deserts and healthcare deserts,” Wyczalkowski said.

The research, he added, could provide a clearer geographic picture of where Atlantans need the most help.

Once the study’s complete, findings would be condensed into academic papers and shared at conferences and with public health and insurance industries.