Janesville73°

Medical transportation tough to tackle

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GINA R. HEINE
August 9, 2010
— Sherry Schlueter had to cancel her eye doctor appointment three times because she didn’t have a way to get there.

She has a “terrible” time finding transportation for medical appointments and other errands, she said.


“Sometimes I get a ride with a neighbor, but most of the time, I can’t get a ride very good,” said Schlueter, 54, who doesn’t drive.


She lives in an apartment building just blocks from the Mercy Hospital/Riverview Clinic campuses, but she can’t walk there because her foot is in a cast.


She used to take the city bus, but is afraid of doing that with her cast, and the possibility of having to walk a couple blocks to or from a bus stop. Other transportation services have told her they prefer people 55 and older, she said.


Transportation is an issue in any community, officials say, but in Rock County it is compounded by cuts to services that provided rides. There’s no one clear answer to the problem, but service providers are working together to find solutions.


Impact of area cuts

In June, the Senior Companion Program of Rock County ended, leaving 221 clients without their companions who helped them with shopping and doctor appointments.


This spring, the company that owns Van Galder Bus decided to end the rides it provided to about 140 Rock County residents to work at Kandu.


In 2008, Mercy Health System ended its Mercy in Motion program, which provided Mercy patients with rides to medical appointments.


Rock County Specialized Transit has taken a few more calls lately, but it’s too early to draw any conclusions on why, said Joyce Luben, director of the Council on Aging.


Just this week, the transit service added another vehicle to its fleet to meet the demand, she said.


“Our routes were full, and they were filling up fairly quickly pretty far in advance,” she said. “And in looking at the budget, we decided that we could put another one on the road and see how it goes.”


Love INC, which provides free rides with volunteer drivers, also has seen an increase in calls and has taken on a few new clients since the Senior Companion program ended, said Tina Westman, clearinghouse coordinator.


Rides usually are limited to two per month, she said, and the non-profit network of churches transports about 12 clients a month.


More demand

The number of rides Rock County Specialized Transit provides has increased the last four years—from 19,518 rides in 2006 to 24,173 rides in 2009. By far the majority of trips are medical related, according to specialized transit data. Of the trips made last year, 15,022 were medical.


The specialized transit program provides rides for people age 55 and older or people with a disability. It is a service run through the Council on Aging.


Rides within a community are $4 one way or $5 to another community. The program is funded through the state, county, city and other sources including Medicare.


Kim Pregont, manager of Riverview Heights Apartments in Janesville, said transportation cuts, including the Senior Companion program, have “really put residents on the spot.”


“When they’re not driving anymore, they depended on those things,” she said. “Now it’s up to them to find (new rides).”


Westman agreed.


“I do think it is a gap in our community,” she said. “It is something that is needed—a away for folks to get around.”


Evaluating resources

Luben leads a transportation coordinating committee made up of transportation providers and agencies that serve clients with transportation needs.


“These are issues we are constantly talking about—how can we best coordinate our resources,” she said. “Now, our focus is on looking at what all the resource are, where are federal- and state-funded vehicles, and can we coordinate all those resources.”


One idea they are researching is how to put government-funded vehicles to use when other agencies aren’t using them, she said. No timeline is set, but the committee will continue discussions.


After Mercy in Motion ended, Jim Lang of Janesville had hoped to fill the void by starting a non-profit transportation system for those in need of rides to medical appointments and other errands.


His idea fizzled because of the economy, he said, and it “just never went anywhere.”


“I just couldn’t drum up the funds to get it off the ground,” he said. “There’s a tremendous need for it. If I could find somebody else that is interested in working on it, I would surely be willing to work on it.”



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