Editor’s note: A previous version of this story neglected to mention that Mercy Health has a pregnancy resource center on Youngstown’s south side, on Chalmers Avenue. The program also offers a ride service for access to those services. We regret the omission, and the story has been updated for accuracy.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The WRTA will be putting its COVID-19 money to use.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is giving out $7 million across the state. Out of that, the WRTA will get about $144,000 for Mahoning County and another $126,000 for Trumbull County.
Right now, WRTA rides to vaccination clinics are already free, and will continue to be free at least through June or until money runs out. The bus company is still using CARES Act money to pay for these rides.
Keeping rides free allows for better social distancing between passengers. It also allows riders to enter through the back of the bus so the driver is not potentially exposed to the virus.
Since rides to vaccination clinics are already covered, the WRTA has plans to use the ODOT money to help the community.
“We don’t really need the money for those purposes,” said Dean Harris, WRTA executive director. “So after listening to the webinar, it looks like this money not only can be used for [rides to] vaccinations but in the future, can be used for [rides to] doctor’s visits.”
There’s one medical problem affecting the Valley that WRTA hopes to help fix — the maternity desert.
Right now, women living in Youngstown city limits who don’t own a car might not be able to get adequate prenatal care. That has spiked the county infant mortality rate to one of the highest in the state, especially for Black babies.
Black babies are three times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthday.
The WRTA plans to use its ODOT money to keep people in good health even after the pandemic is over.
“The goal is to help with the pediatric issue because that is a big issue, but all medical appointments. We’d like to keep everyone in Youngstown healthy,” Harris said.
The money from ODOT is supposed to be available for up to two years.