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Within the first week that Austin Correll was driving for Lyft in the fall of 2021, he was sent to pick up passengers at an address that turned out to be for a hospital. When he pulled up to the curb, he found an elderly woman in a wheelchair and another other with a walker, waiting for him — flanked by four or five nurses.

He got out and talked to the nurses, who told him that the woman in the wheelchair had just had heart surgery and needed to go to assisted living. The woman with the walker was her daughter, and she also appeared to have some health problems, Correll says.

Correll, who said he started working for Lyft for a few months while he waited for the results of his bar exam, doesn’t have any medical training. He told The Verge he immediately felt unprepared for the responsibility of transporting these two women, who were supposed to go to a motel around two hours away. When the nurses then told him that, on arrival at the motel, he should call an ambulance to help move the passengers into their room, he grew even more uneasy.

“The biggest thing I was worried about was, what if there was a medical emergency? This isn’t somebody who got their arm broken, got a cast, and needed to get home,” Correll says. “These are two people with severe medical issues.”

When they got to the motel, Correll decided he didn’t want to call the ambulance. Instead, as carefully as possible, he helped both women out of his truck and into their hotel room. After the ride was over, he reached out to Lyft to ask how he got put in this situation. The company wasn’t much help, he says. Lyft did not respond to a request for comment on this specific situation.

Correll is now working as a lawyer. But if he had kept driving, he might have run into more situations like this one. That’s because, for the past few years, rideshare companies Lyft and Uber have been moving into the non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) business, offering their networks to healthcare organizations that need to schedule rides for patients. Correll isn’t sure if his ride was through a formal NEMT program, but it could have been: to protect patient privacy, drivers aren’t told if their rides are from healthcare partnerships or not.

NEMT is used as a way to help low-income patients and Medicaid recipients get to appointments they might otherwise miss because they lack access to transportation. The need for such services is significant: millions of people in the United States, mostly low income, miss doctors’ appointments each year because of transportation barriers, costing the health system billions of dollars. But while NEMT is often done through dedicated companies, rideshare groups are now interested in what’s estimated to be a $3 billion market.

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