Theresa Toney was one of the local characters who helped define the idiosyncratic quirkiness of Brattleboro. She would often call me to rant about problems that she felt needed to be solved immediately. Sometimes she would take matters into her own hands and other times she would blame others for not doing the right thing. I was one of those people who often got the blame.
Theresa has passed on, but there was one issue that she harped on for years and I tried to get her to do something about it. That issue is local transportation, especially for rides to medical appointments.
Windham County has a number of organizations that do offer medical rides, including many of the town cares groups, the American Cancer Society as well as the Current bus that provides rides for people who fall into a variety of categories of need, especially those who are Medicaid subscribers. But there is a big gap in the transportation system that leaves out too many Brattleboro residents who need medical rides.
The area is blessed with an abundance of human service organizations but I am not sure if any of them has made an effort to organize a medical ride system for Brattleboro. I just don't have the time to do such a thing, but I am more than willing to offer ideas and information about how to move forward.
I would first suggest that no one create a new non-profit organization, but that they work to create a ride service as part of an existing organization. That organization could create a position of ride coordinator. Once an organizational commitment is made to hire the ride coordinator that person would have many local resources to draw upon.
They should first contact the local cares organizations as well as the Current bus and the American Cancer Society and find out how they provide rides and what issues have to be dealt with. Liability is always an issue and it would be prudent to research that area.
One of the most difficult tasks of a medical ride service is finding volunteer drivers. An organization may have to offer some degree of gas reimbursement in order to have a solid pool of drivers. Those drivers need to have some training in dealing with the mobility needs of people who cannot move around without assistance.
The best place for people to get that kind of training is from physical therapists. The ride organization could contract with any of the multitude of local physical therapy offices to provide that kind of training on an as-needed basis. Physical therapists are the experts in this area and their help is not only valuable but necessary.
Then there is the work of connecting drivers to riders and doing the necessary scheduling. One absolute rule has to be that an organization must be able to respond to ride requests within 48 hours. That means that potential riders have to be educated to understand that they must give the organization at least two days notice if they want a ride.
Another area that has to be dealt with is the ride range. Medical rides for people living in Brattleboro means that people may need to get to appointments in Keene and Lebanon in New Hampshire or in Burlington, Greenfield or Boston.
An organization will have to decide how far they are willing to go. They also have to be prepared for rides that may be needed five days a week for six continuous weeks in the case of people needing to go to Keene for radiation therapy.
A ride service becomes much more than rides as drivers develop relationships with the riders and the ride coordinator becomes involved in the lives of people who need the support of their community. It can become an extremely rewarding venture.
I am making the call to the people of Brattleboro, on behalf of Theresa Toney and the hundreds of other people who have been lost to medical follow-up, to find a way to provide rides to medical appointments for the needy Brattleboro population.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.