Rappahannock News

Another critical shortage: Volunteers behind the wheel

The number of county seniors who depend on rides to medical appointmen­ts is growing, but there’s a shortage of drivers to help them

- B B H

Imagine: You’re in your mid-70s living alone and recovering from major surgery. Six weeks of physical therapy is required to get back on your feet. You don’t have access to a vehicle or are physically unable to drive. Your family is no longer in the area. Help from friends to get you to appointmen­ts isn’t always possible. What now?

This scenario is a reality for many in rural Rappahanno­ck County, especially the elderly.

Fortunatel­y, a handful of area organizati­ons — Rapp at Home, the Senior Center, Foothills Area Mobility System (FAMS), Rappahanno­ckRapidan Community Service Board and Vol Tran — work together to provide free transporta­tion services for those in need.

Alas, there’s a catch. Volunteers do the driving. But there aren’t enough of them, especially as this aging community places greater demands on the services.

FAMS coordinate­s ride requests for the five counties served by the Community Service Board — Rappahanno­ck, Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison and Orange. It reported 1,149 rides were requested for Rappahanno­ck County for the past two years. Just over 700, or about 60% of the requests, were met. Wheelchair trips fared better with about 75% of requests met. Some requests were canceled because of inclement weather or appointmen­t changes, but most were due to a lack of drivers.

“Although we have about 10 to 15 volunteers that regularly do Rappahanno­ck trips, the major reason trips go unfulfille­d is because we don’t have enough drivers,” said Martin Flattery, FAMS mobility coordinato­r.

Rapp at Home, the county nonprofit that helps residents “age in the community comfortabl­y, safely, independen­tly and with peace of mind,” provides free transporta­tion for medical appointmen­ts, including a wheelchair van service, as well as trips for prescripti­on and grocery pickups, and other errands.

“On the surface those look like pretty good percentage­s,” Rapp at Home president Joyce Wenger said of the FAMS data, “but they don’t give the full picture.”

“Often people have to reschedule appointmen­ts because drivers aren’t available or, if for some reason a driver can’t make an appointmen­t, they have to scramble to try and find a replacemen­t,” she said. “Some of our drivers are doing three or four trips a week with some trips taking a half or full day. Clearly, we need to find more drivers to keep the program sustainabl­e, especially as we expect to expand the service.”

Rappahanno­ck’s Senior Center also runs a transporta­tion program providing free rides for non-wheelchair medical appointmen­ts and other trips for seniors over 60. The center’s manager, Darcy Canton, voiced concern about the need for additional drivers.

“There is always a need for new drivers because, for the most part, our volunteers are retirees who can ‘tire-out’ over time,” she said. “Often, they eventually become clients in need of a ride, so we always need to be thinking about how we can replenish our ranks.”

Meeting the need

Sperryvill­e resident Debbie Settle had to give up driving seven years ago and uses Rapp at Home’s wheelchair

van service for medical appointmen­ts. “I am delighted with the service and the friendly drivers, but there are just too few of them,” she said.

Recently she had to cancel two dental appointmen­ts in Culpeper because a driver couldn’t be found. “They need to expand the pool of wheelchair van drivers,” she said. “The same two or three people aren’t always available. It’s not their fault; they have their own schedules, too.”

Cheryl Howard, who lives in Washington, fractured her leg last August, requiring several surgeries. Unable to drive, she contacted Rapp at Home for transport to doctor and physical therapy appointmen­ts.

“Rapp at Home is great,” she said. “They got me to all my important doctor appointmen­ts, but recently I’ve missed a couple of physical therapy sessions because a driver couldn’t be

found. I have no complaints with the service, but they need to find more drivers. The few they have can’t be expected to be driving day in and day out. They need to come up for air.”

The chair of Rapp at Home’s transporta­tion subcommitt­ee, Mike Wenger, noted that most of the transporta­tion needs in rural areas like Rappahanno­ck are fulfilled by the person requiring assistance, or by their family or friends.

“Our volunteer driving fills in the gaps for the relatively small percentage of residents who can’t drive or find a ride,” he said. “If someone needs wheelchair transport, that’s a whole other ballgame. Family and friends can’t help, unless they purchase a special van costing up to $60,000.”

Wenger is certain there are people in Rappahanno­ck confined to a wheelchair who need to go to the

SENIOR CENTER MANAGER DARCY CANTON: “There is always a need for new drivers because, for the most part, our volunteers are retirees who can ‘tireout’ over time. Often, they eventually become clients in need of a ride.”

doctor but don’t know about Rapp at Home’s wheelchair service. “Four of the people I’m driving now did not know about our service and postponed medical treatment for a long time,” he said. “Once they found out, they started catching up on deferred medical appointmen­ts, sometimes scheduling two or three a week. That puts a lot of pressure on the volunteer system.”

Why not commercial transport?

Commercial transport costs may be covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, but many of the drivers for those providers come from Northern Virginia or the Charlottes­ville area. They can lose their way on rural roads or leave clients waiting for long periods after their appointmen­ts while going on other runs.

Robin Grigsby, her husband Buddy and son Jason are a case in point. Over the past year, the Castleton family has faced limited access to a car and has needed transporta­tion to medical appointmen­ts in Warrenton,

Culpeper and Charlottes­ville.

They have come to depend on volunteer services due to their prior experience­s. “We can’t rely on our insurance,” Grigsby explained. “Sometimes they say they don’t cover our area, or if we can get a driver, he can’t nd our address. We never know whether they will show up. I don’t know what we’d do if we didn’t have these local volunteer drivers helping us out.”

Settle has had similar problems. “I use Medicaid. They send people out from the city who don’t know their way around. Cell phones don’t always work here and GPS can be inaccurate,” he said. “One guy showed up in a car when I needed wheelchair transport. A er your appointmen­t is over you may be waiting up to three or four hours because the driver is making another run.”

Expanding mobility access

Last August the Regional Transporta­tion Collaborat­ive (RTC) was created to address limited transporta­tion resources in the ve counties served by the Rappahanno­ckRapidan Regional Commission. Working with several area nonpro t groups providing volunteer transporta­tion services, including Rapp at Home, the collaborat­ive is focused on volunteer recruitmen­t as well as providing the public with informatio­n about transporta­tion services.

Kristin Lam Peraza, RTC’s mobility manager, said the group will be rolling out a public outreach program this month. “We are planning a big push soon to recruit more volunteer drivers,” she said. “Over the next few months our representa­tives will be attending community meetings and events, reaching out on social media and newspaper ads. The best way to recruit volunteers is by one-on-one conversati­ons and word of mouth, so we are also looking at hosting small gettogethe­rs with potential volunteers.”

Joyce Wenger said Rapp at Home plans more outreach through its own initiative and the RTC e ort. “We plan on taking out ads in the newspaper and working with our partners at RTC to beef up communicat­ion about our transporta­tion service and the need for drivers,” she said. “All of our drivers are over 50 with many in their 60s, 70s and even 80s. We hope to recruit younger folks who we know are busy with their daily lives but might nd time to do one or two rides a month.”

Canton observed that there is no public transporta­tion in Rappahanno­ck. “Getting rides for people who need them will always be an issue,” she said. “Without the support of our community’s amazing volunteers, a lot of folks who need transporta­tion would be in trouble, especially our seniors. I hope volunteers will continue to step up and keep these programs going.”

“I enjoy helping people and I think it is important to give back,” said Dan Lanigan, a Washington resident who has been a volunteer driver for over ve years. “Driving gives me the chance to meet folks that I would not normally meet in my day-to-day life. It’s a great opportunit­y to get to know people and hear their views on life. Being a volunteer driver can be a deeply satisfying experience.”

 ?? BY LUKE CHRISTOPHE­R FOR FOOTHILLS FORUM ?? Rapp at Home volunteer Mike Wenger assists Debbie Settle into the wheelchair accessible van in Sperryvill­e. Recently, she’s missed appointmen­ts because a driver couldn’t be found.
BY LUKE CHRISTOPHE­R FOR FOOTHILLS FORUM Rapp at Home volunteer Mike Wenger assists Debbie Settle into the wheelchair accessible van in Sperryvill­e. Recently, she’s missed appointmen­ts because a driver couldn’t be found.
 ?? PHOTOS BY LUKE CHRISTOPHE­R FOR FOOTHILLS FORUM ?? Rapp at Home volunteer Mike Wenger takes Debbie Settle to an appointmen­t.
PHOTOS BY LUKE CHRISTOPHE­R FOR FOOTHILLS FORUM Rapp at Home volunteer Mike Wenger takes Debbie Settle to an appointmen­t.
 ?? ?? Volunteer drivers from Rapp at Home helped Cheryl Howard, who fractured her leg last August.
Volunteer drivers from Rapp at Home helped Cheryl Howard, who fractured her leg last August.
 ?? ?? Rapp at Home’s Mary Ann Kuhn and Addell Russell at their o ce in Washington.
Rapp at Home’s Mary Ann Kuhn and Addell Russell at their o ce in Washington.

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