For Immediate Release: Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Contact: Michael Garfield at (734) 904-4388

ANN ARBOR—Two of Washtenaw County’s leading health care delivery system executives today announced their personal support for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) May 6 millage proposal to improve public transit.

The endorsements are shared by Dr. Ora Pescovitz, executive vice president of medical affairs for the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers, and Rob Casalou, president and CEO of St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Livingston hospitals.

It’s rare in Washtenaw County millage election history for two such prominent health care leaders to publicly support a ballot initiative. Casalou and Dr. Pescovitz said the issue of expanding public transit is critical to meeting the community’s current and future health care needs so they decided not to remain neutral.

“There are 35,000 staff, patients and visitors who come to the University of Michigan medical center on any given day,” Dr. Pescovitz said.

“I believe a large number of these individuals could benefit from increased service and extended hours of AAATA service if the millage is passed,” Dr. Pescovitz added. “Our entire community benefits from initiatives with the potential to reduce demand on the parking system and the need to build or expand lots, roads or structures.”

AAATA’s plan will help fill gaps in accessing health care services for previously uninsured residents who now have medical coverage through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, says Casalou.

“I agree with the experts who have indicated that a robust transportation system will enable the greater Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area to become more economically vital and provide its residents with an even greater quality of life, which is a win/win for all of us,” Casalou said.

Saint Joseph Mercy Health System and U-M Health System are joint sponsors of the Washtenaw Health Initiative, a voluntary countywide collaboration of safety net providers who work collaboratively to meet the demands of increased Medicaid enrollment.  They also help patients navigate the health care landscape as the Affordable Care Act goes into effect in 2014, Casalou noted.  Enhanced public transit could ease access to care for the roughly 24,000 Washtenaw County residents who are expected to become newly eligible for Medicaid in 2014 or will purchase coverage through the health exchange in the future.

According to the 2010 census, at least 10 percent of Washtenaw County’s population is aged 65 or older. By 2035, this age group is expected to make up approximately 23 percent of the population. In addition, approximately 29,000 residents of all ages (or 9 percent) in Washtenaw County have a disability involving hearing, vision, cognition, mobility or self-care. Census data shows that this demographic of Washtenaw County’s population more frequently experience difficulties or delays in getting the health care they need compared with the general population, and lack of transportation is a commonly cited concern that increased transit could alleviate to help ensure better access to medical services.

The announcement by Casalou and Dr. Pescovitz follows last week’s endorsements for the AAATA’s May 6 ballot proposal by the presidents of U-M, Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw County Community College.

The AAATA is seeking the public’s approval on the May 6 ballot for a five-year, 0.7 millage to support the plan. Civic leaders and organizations that often disagree have united to endorse the goals of the AAATA five-year public transit improvement plan and millage.

Supporters include:

  • The Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce
  • Huron Valley Central Labor Council
  • United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 1A
  • Washtenaw Regional Organizing Coalition (WeROC)
  • Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) 1-B that serves Washtenaw County
  • The Ypsilanti Senior Community Center
  • The Ann Arbor Community Center
  • The Center for Independent Living
  • Partners For Transit
  • U.S. Congressman John Dingell
  • State legislators who represent Washtenaw County in the Michigan Legislature, including
State Rep. Jeff Irwin, State Rep. David Rutledge and
State Rep. Adam Zemke
  • All six of the Washtenaw County commissioners whose districts are impacted by the service improvements
  • As well as all of the candidates who are seeking to become Ann Arbor’s next mayor.

Supporters recognize that Washtenaw County’s urban core communities will benefit from more routes and longer hours of service.
 Opponents to the millage have not identified any endorsements they have received from a community-based organization.