Brooklyn hospital uses bike share to promote employee and patient wellness

by Omar Hernandez

Interfaith Citi Bike 2
Image courtesy of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

Employees of Interfaith Medical Center, as well as patients suffering from diabetes and high-blood pressure, are becoming active and healthier, thanks to the community hospital’s initiative with the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC).

Interfaith Medical Center acts as a neighborhood contractor for BSRC, as part of the Partnership to Improve Community Health (PICH) grant funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As part of this initiative, Interfaith became the first hospital in NYC to join the Citi Bike Corporate Enrollment program, where employers either fully or partially subsidize the memberships of their employees.

In its first run as a pilot program, Interfaith sought to enroll 75 employees in the Citi Bike program — 25 through fully subsidized memberships and 50 through partially subsidized memberships. To date, over 71 percent of the newly-enrolled employees are people of color, reflecting the diverse community of Central Brooklyn.

In partnership with the health department, Interfaith also created the first Prescribe-a-Bike program in NYC, which was instituted at the Bishop Orris G. Walker, Jr. Health Care Center.  With support from the CDC and New York State, this innovative program enables physicians to prescribe a free one-year Citi- Bike membership to patients in need of physical activity, or a lifestyle change.

“Interfaith Medical Center and its Bishop Walker Health Center are committed to working with the community to fight the health crisis of Central Brooklyn,” says LaRay Brown, president and CEO of Interfaith Medical Center. “We are in the community proactively providing preventive health and wellness support and engaging residents through education about diabetes, dental health, the importance of having a primary care doctor, mental health, and much more.”

Partnership and outreach lead the way

IMC Bike Ride June 1 Mural PhotoImage courtesy of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

Working together with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Neighborhood Health Action Center in Bed-Stuy, Interfaith created its own “care team,” to facilitate and promote its programs through a series of bike-related services. These events included orientations highlighting the importance of a healthier lifestyle, bike safety classes, bike clubs, and similar bike-related trainings. Interfaith conducted nine community bike rides in conjunction with community leaders and members of the New York City Council. Rides took place during the first and last Wednesdays of the month from May to October 2016.

Collectively, these efforts increased ridership among low-wage workers and patients across the neighborhood. Interfaith exceeded its outreach goal of 300 employees, reaching more than 2,515 employees and community residents, and encouraging them to live healthier, more active lives.

Lousia John, 63, a patient at Interfaith, was prescribed Citi Bike last year and said that riding a bike every day, for fifteen to thirty minutes around a local school, made her healthy enough to not need medication.

“My condition is now under control now,” says John. “[After almost a year] I have no need for medication anymore.”

In addition to leading community bike rides to promote health-focused community assets like farmers markets, community gardens, gyms, and pools, Interfaith has played an important role by attending and contributing to regular meetings led by BSRC’s Better Bike Share Partnership.

Satisfied with its success, BSRC awarded Interfaith additional funding for a second year. Interfaith will share its best practices for engaging employees and patients with other health centers, hospitals, and major employers across Brooklyn and NYC.

“On a personal level, I am a driver and initially I was hesitant to become vested in this work,” says Verna Ademu-John, Director of Community Engagement & Partnerships at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. “However, we saw the potential for our community, and wanted to work in a collaborative way, so we provided this opportunity with the help of funding that made it possible.  Interfaith has been a great partner in this work. They have moved beyond the boundaries of what is expected — addressing the medical needs of their patients — to something innovative in a hospital setting. They seized the opportunity and ran with it.”

Financial options make healthy living affordable

Interfaith and Citi Bike 1Image courtesy of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

A key goal of the next year will be enrollment of patients and employees in Citi Bike programs. Facilitating enrollment of employees, Interfaith helped to champion a monthly payment option for those who only have their membership partially subsidized. Previously, employees were required to pay their entire membership upfront in one lump sum, presenting a barrier for low-income residents.

Interfaith and Restoration will also co-host financial literacy workshops. These workshops will work to help current and prospective Citi Bike members identify ways to positively repurpose the savings made possible through their Citi Bike memberships, particularly by paying down debt and investing in other areas of their lives. The partnership with BSRC will also help residents get banked or obtain a credit card, which is a requirement for Citi Bike membership.

Benjamín González, the Associate Director of Grants Management at Interfaith, mentioned in a recent testimony to the NYC Council’s Transportation Committee how the Interfaith Citi Bike subsidy program and Prescribe-a-Bike program are leading the hospital to embracing biking culture and equity.

He says, “Bike share work can be an excellent opportunity to empower younger medical residents with existing community resources to improve their own and their patients’ health. [They do this] through physical activity, along with transforming the healthcare delivery system through value-based payment, [and contributing to] social determinants of health, and other health equity and quality reforms underway in NYC and New York State. “

In December, González was recognized by the BSRC for his efforts. González and his team have helped raise awareness of biking as a healthy and affordable transportation alternative. One of their patients reached 95 bike rides in only three months.

Interfaith has been invited to speak and share their bike share work at City Hall, and more recently, at a workforce development conference in Philadelphia.

>The work of Interfaith has been covered in Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Citi Bike official blog.

>Learn more about Interfaith’s work and the Brooklyn partnership through BSRC’s June 28th webinar.

Omar Hernandez is a college senior studying English with a concentration in Journalism at Medgar Evers College. For the past semester, he served as an intern for the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

The Better Bike Share Partnership is a JPB Foundation-funded collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write