Revolutionary is a regular series from the VHA Innovation Ecosystem. The series focuses on VA employees who are disrupting the status-quo, breaking down barriers, and attempting to radically revolutionize Veteran care and employee experience.
Boston VA’s Charles Franklin was working in South Shore, Massachusetts, in 2017 as a Community employment coordinator. He noticed the rising cost of living was forcing the Veterans he worked with to move to the outskirts of the city. Often, they moved to areas with a lack of public transportation options.
Franklin had an idea to address this problem. He worked with the VA Innovators Network and later the New England Center for Innovation Excellence. Together, they designed and implemented a rideshare program to meet Veteran housing and employment needs.
Franklin’s revolutionary journey went from the initial rideshare pilot to expansion of services to 18 VA networks. The rideshare program is in 133 VA medical centers, with over 15,000 rides thus far. Along the way, he’s learned a very important lesson about innovating in the largest health care system in the country.
Charles Franklin, VA Innovation Ecosystem Revolutionary
“If it isn’t easy for frontline staff to use, they won’t use it,” Franklin said. “Getting frontline staff invested and involved in the solution also helps when the project hits a wall. You are on the same team and incorporating feedback from front-line staff ultimately helps everyone.”
Operating in a pandemic
Another lesson Franklin learned is the art of the pivot. Transportation needs surged when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, especially after volunteer transportation services shut down. Franklin’s willingness to adapt allowed rideshare to ensure Veterans were still able to get critical care. It also led to the distribution of more than 40,000 meals to vulnerable Veterans in 2021.
He saw the need for this program to be permanent and went through the appropriations process to get funding from Congress, guaranteeing this resource for Veterans.
The innovator in you
Franklin had to overcome multiple obstacles in launching the program. Now, he finds himself with the freedom to be a problem-solver, no longer confined to just “what is available.”
“So long as you understand the why and let it drive you, ‘no’s’ and ‘we can’t do it that way’s’ will not stop you,” Franklin said.
Franklin’s story is not unlike other innovators’ stories and could easily resemble the path you take. From serving in the Army infantry for 12 years to revolutionary health care innovator, Charles Franklin continues to provide and refine essential health care services for Veterans nationwide and is taking a bite out of health care inequality in the process.
Want to support VHA IE’s innovation revolution? Visit our website (https://www.va.gov/innovationecosystem/) to learn about opportunities to become involved in innovation at VA.