Seabreeze NEMT built on foundation of caring, action

Non-emergency medical transportation

When Christmas is your favorite holiday, you tend to go all-out. Whether it’s decorating your home or finding the perfect tree, you’re committed. For Brisa Berumen-Dixon, CEO of Seabreeze Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) of Rockford, Illinois, Christmas is an important time of year.

“Christmas is my favorite holiday,” Brisa explains, “and I believe that Christmas is a time of spiritual reflection. It’s a celebration, and I believe the more we give the more we will receive.”

During the holidays the Rockford area has a festival of lights to celebrate. Ever since Seabreeze NEMT began giving rides, Brisa and her team have participated in the festival by taking members to the event with the company’s vehicles.

“My team, my employees truly enjoy their jobs and enjoy participating in community events such as the festival of lights. It is also fun to plan and have drivers dress up as Santa Claus. I have children call the office and ask, ‘Hey is it true Santa works for you?’ Calls like this are the reason why we go above and beyond.”

Starting Seabreeze

“Working in the medical field,” she explains, “I became frustrated with the daily struggle of patients not getting to their medical appointments. I would often make referrals and appointments, but they weren’t completed because of transportation issues. Especially with specialized transport that required wheelchair transport.”

But as with most things with Brisa, there’s more to the story. In this case, a personal experience, her reason for getting into NEMT. There was one patient in particular whose situation frustrated Brisa so much that she had to act.

“Mike (name changed to protect member’s privacy) whose life changed after he had a stroke. His left side was impacted causing him paralysis,” Brisa said. This prevented him from getting around on his own even with the help of a custom power chair. The combination of his power chair and his weight was close to 600 pounds, which caused a barrier when having to transport him to medical appointments.

“His health was declining because he was not able to follow through with recommended medical appointments,” she recalls. “This was an issue that occurred several times a week. I was frustrated with this struggle.

“I came home one day after a long day; my husband was home cooking dinner and he asked me why I was in a bad mood. I shared with him over dinner my struggle with transportation, and he told me not to worry about situations I have no control over. I was angry with his response and went to bed early that night.”

At breakfast the next day with her husband, the couple was drinking their morning coffee. That’s when Brisa made the announcement: she was starting her own non-emergency medical transportation company. Several months later the business plan was complete, and Seabreeze was established. (She named the company Seabreeze because it’s the meaning of her name in Spanish.)

“Knowing how we are impacting the community brings joy to my heart, knowing that the barrier that was identified is being addressed. It is also a blessing to be able to help families; I have twenty employees and 16 of them are single mothers or single fathers who depend on their paychecks to provide for their families.”

Three years later

Three years into owning Seabreeze NEMT, Brisa said she has a specific reason she got into the business. She’s a problem-solver and running an NEMT service lets her solve them every day of the week. The company currently has seven vehicles; five are wheelchair-accessible and can accommodate up to 1,000 pounds.

“We are truly blessed to work in a community that supports Seabreeze as a whole,” said Brisa, who was born and raised in Rockford and lived on the south side of the city. “Over the last three years, we have donated 103 rides.” Overall, Seabreeze NEMT completes more than 100 trips a day and averages 520 trips a week.

Seabreeze NEMT is committed to the community, and the company’s employees and partners. “I have invested so much time into this business,” Brisa said, “and I value time as tomorrow is not promised to anyone. I also understand the need and the value this company brings to the community and, honestly, it is a need today and will be a need tomorrow.”

To help ensure Seabreeze NEMT remains an effective transportation provider for the Rockford area, Brisa said the company must be consistent and reliable. A big part of that is helping members feel safe and treating everyone with respect. As the company owner, Brisa said the most important part of any NEMT business is the member. Being empathetic is crucial to the success of the business and individual drivers.

Understanding what members go through every day often is the first step in making the person-to-person connection that’s so important in NEMT. “One of my drivers discussed in a meeting that he was having issues with a particular member,” she said. “He stated, ‘she is always angry and very rude.’

“I often complete ride-along trips with the drivers, and I happened to know exactly what member my driver was speaking about. This member is a single mother, and she has terminal cancer. We take her to treatment, and she is angry.

“What I helped my staff understand was that she is not angry with them. She is angry with her diagnosis, cancer, her situation. She hates going to treatment. She hates the fact that she is a single mother, and she has this diagnosis.”

Everyday challenges

The biggest struggles NEMT providers face each day are schedule changes, cancellations, traffic, weather, COVID and incorrect contact information, such as wrong addresses or phone numbers. “It truly is a work of art to find a balance at the end of each day to ensure that everyone is transported safely home,” Brisa said.

Seabreeze works to help make sure members get to and from healthcare appointments safely, and Brisa said it’s her family and team that keep her motivated and always looking to improve. “I can’t take all the credit because I have a strong support network and a husband who is supportive and always willing to take that extra step with me,” she said. “I have always welcomed a challenge especially when someone tells me I can’t do something. You see I am a Latina…raised by my maternal grandparents who immigrated from Guadalajara, Jalisco Mexico.

“My grandfather opened the first Mexican grocery store in Rockford, and he successfully owned this store for 38 years,” she continues. “He did all of this with a 6th-grade education. He raised 10 children of his own and adopted me at the age of eleven.”

Brisa and Seabreeze are an important part of the Rockford community, and Brisa recognizes that “without community, there is no Seabreeze.”

Brisa and Seabreeze Non-Emergency Medical Transportation work with Modivcare to provide transportation services to individuals in the Rockford area.