Multimodal and Alternative Transit AdoptionFahlgren Mortine Case Study: Midsize Company Makes Big Impact with Internal Carpool Program
January 7th, 2024
OhioHealth is an award-winning not-for-profit healthcare system with 12 hospitals and more than 200 ambulatory sites, hospice, home health, medical equipment and other health services spanning a 47-county area. Serving its communities since 1891, OhioHealth is a family of 30,000 associates, physicians and volunteers.
In 2017, OhioHealth joined the Smart Columbus Acceleration Partner program as an extension of both organizations’ synergies and established missions around quality of life, sustainability and public health. The organization created a strong leadership team to engage with Acceleration Partner goals and ensure alignment across departments. The team consisted of 10 senior leaders, including sustainability; real estate, construction and facilities; human resources; marketing and communications; community relations; and general counsel.
As an early effort in the partnership, OhioHealth implemented a pilot mobility benefit; incentivizing non-single occupant vehicle commutes with associates at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, the largest hospital in the health system. The hospital is located at a busy intersection in Columbus that connects multiple lane streets to highways, with limited infrastructure for bikes and walking.
Allegra Wiesler, senior sustainability consultant at OhioHealth and the organization’s mobility ambassador, says that OhioHealth associates have unique mobility issues as a healthcare organization. Limited parking is available to staff at the Riverside Methodist Hospital campus, so they are encouraged to park at a remote lot and take a shuttle into work. Shuttles are small and sometimes struggle to minimize wait times during shift change.
“We just don't have enough parking, and as we grow, our patients’ parking needs are the priority,” Wiesler says. “We have a lack of space overall at the hospital and it’s a complex operation. It was hard finding locations for bike racks on campus. Not only do we have to consider ADA compliance, but we have a lot of other vehicles, such as ambulances, moving through so safety considerations have to be in place.”
Understanding Associate Mobility
In order to get a better assessment of associate behaviors, over 6,000 associates were surveyed on their mobility behaviors to and from the Riverside Methodist campus. Associates who participated in the survey were entered into a drawing to win a FitBit. The survey included clinical and non-clinical staff across all shifts.
Results found that 90 percent of associates were driving to work alone. Wiesler says that shifts often have unpredictable end times, so it is hard for associates to consider carpool options or depend on COTA bus service with limited pick-up times.
“Some of our associates stated that they drive to work solo because they don’t know any other way to get here,” Wiesler says. “A lot of associates mentioned that they wanted to bike to work but had safety concerns. Others mentioned before or after work responsibilities.” Survey collection was the first step in building a data-driven case for mobility benefits.
OhioHealth, the Columbus Collaboratory and Smart Columbus worked together to co-create a secure tool to create heatmaps showing where associates live and their commutes to the Riverside Methodist campus. The heatmap allowed Wiesler to see how closely associates live to one another and enabled a feasibility assessment of carpool matching, walking/cycling, and COTA transit use. The heatmapping tool has already been used by over 10 additional employer partners to map their employee commutes. The heatmap informed more than associate mobility struggles and solutions.
“When we saw that map, it allowed us to consider other opportunities to get our workforce here,” Wiesler says.
Creating A Pilot
Over 70 percent of associates surveyed mentioned they’d be interested in commuting via sustainable methods, and the majority of them stated financial incentives or saving money as a reason to try it out. Using that data, Wiesler began crafting a pilot incentive program for associates who walk, bike, carpool or take COTA to work over a three-month period.
Using grant dollars from the Ignite Action Fund which is available to Acceleration Partners to assist with piloting mobility benefits, Wiesler was able to outfit an existing internal incentive platform called Inspire to add a benefit for associates who commuted to work using a bus, bike, walking or carpooling. Participants received a free coffee mug for signing up for the carpool program and earned a free coffee in the hospital cafe as a daily commute benefit. There were also weekly incentives, including free lunch at the on-site cafeteria. After accumulating points over the month for using non-single occupant vehicle commuting options, associates could use them in an internal online marketplace.
Associates self-reported their commutes using Gohio Commute, a web portal and mobile app leveraging RideAmigos technology provided by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. Wiesler says about 200 people signed up for the program, with approximately 15 percent staying active during the entire three-month period. Gohio not only tracked associate commutes, but calculated calories burned, money saved and environmental benefits.
Participating associates were recognized and celebrated for hitting milestones using internal communication channels and at hospital-wide meetings by senior staff.
Using Mobility Data to Inform Mobility Benefits
Moving forward, Wiesler said the pilot program, along with the associate surveying and heatmap allowed OhioHealth to bring together other departments to consider mobility as a part of business decisions.
Based on feedback from associates, OhioHealth added more bike racks to the Riverside Methodist campus and a new corporate building that recently opened.
“The survey and the mapping were crucial to accumulate some data around transportation and mobility. I think everyone thinks they know what the issues or struggles might be, but now we can quantify it,” Wiesler says. “We have changed the way we communicate based off of the survey results.”
Creating safer bikeways and a more robust transit infrastructure would be valuable in the future for both staff and patients, Wiesler says.
Active participation in the Smart Columbus Acceleration Partner Program has helped change the conversation at OhioHealth, and Wiesler is optimistic about future mobility programs. Here are some key takeaways from the pilot program at OhioHealth:
First Shift Employees Were Most Engaged
Wiesler found that though third-shift associates reported using carpooling more than other shifts in the survey, more first shift associates signed up for the pilot program. She says that options such as biking and walking are more difficult and potentially less safe for those second- and third-shift associates because they get off work when it’s still dark outside. Also, due to the nature of the healthcare environment, many associates don’t have time to access computers, phones and emails throughout their shift. Wiesler says that made it harder to communicate with some associates about the program, specifically those that worked third shift.
Wellness vs. Mobility Benefits
Wiesler says that for some organizations, communicating mobility benefits as wellness benefits maximizes impact. This is especially true if benefits fit in with existing walking and fitness challenges that are encouraged by the employer.
Strengthening Internal Communications Around Mobility
Currently, OhioHealth offers subsidies for bus passes, but associates aren’t always aware of this benefit. Wiesler identified employee onboarding as an opportunity to further inform associates about the COTA benefit and mobility programs. She also says continuing to monitor mobility patterns will assist not only with current associates, but with the recruitment process.
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