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Serving Others Every Day

How the Patient Transportation Fund helps those in our community receive the care they need at Phelps Health.

In 1998, Phelps Health (formerly PCRMC) determined there was a real need for the patients of the area to have safe, reliable transportation to and from their medical appointments. The patient transportation program was developed and is now supported through the Phelps Health Foundation Patient Transportation Fund. This fund provides transportation to necessary health care appointments and treatments for Phelps Health patients within a 30-mile radius. Since there is no form of public transportation in the Phelps Health service area for patients to utilize, the program is essential for patients residing in the seven surrounding counties.

Mark Stevenson assists a patient in exiting the van in a wheelchair for an appointment at the Phelps Health Medical Office Building.

The Outside Transportation Department (OST) covered 159,987 miles in 2017 to drive patients to and from their necessary medical appointments. The lack of public transportation is a critical barrier for many patients to access the care they need. For the past four years, Administrative Director of Patient Care Services Cindy Butler has been the fund administrator for the program and organizes the efforts of nine employees within the department. The program sees patients of every age, young and old, with a wide variety of patient needs.

“I truly think it folds into that humanistic need and is something that is often overlooked. It is not just for the poor or the rich. It crosses all of those barriers of treating everyone equally and being able to service all our communities,” stated Cindy. “The drivers are really making a huge difference. They truly care and take great pride in what they do.”

The OST department is crucial for so many patients who need assistance with transportation to and from their appointments. The fleet of vehicles includes specialized vans that can support a wide range of needs, such as access to a wheelchair lift, mobility limitations, or as simple as an additional helping hand.

“It is one less thing that they have to worry about. It is a unique service that not every hospital has the opportunity to provide. I think we are very fortunate at Phelps Health to have this service. It really does make a huge difference in the quality of life for many patients,” said Cindy.

SERVING PATIENTS FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS

David Unger, Outside Transportation Department supervisor, is one of the original drivers for the OST and has been with the department for over 20 years. He has seen the program grow from one to several vans and has met many people through the course of his time at Phelps Health.

“You get to know all the patients. They become like family. You would be surprised at how much they can tell you in a 15 minute trip, and if you are driving them every day, or every other day, it really gets personal. I love doing it,” said David. “Big hospitals can’t do what we do. In big cities, you just can’t fight the traffic. This service works best in small communities, and that is what we are.”

At the end of each day, David coordinates the drivers’ efforts on which patients need a ride the next day, where they are located, and what driver is assigned to pick them up. The coordination helps all the drivers stay on route and efficiently pick up patients to drive them to their appointments on time and return them safely home.

“If it was not for this, I would not be able to go to therapy or if I did, it would not be as often,” said Theresa Skyles. “ It’s been a godsend.”

“If it was not for this, I would not be able to go to therapy or if I did, it would not be as often. People do not like to give rides as much as I need to have them,” said Theresa Skyles. “I go to physical therapy two to three days a week and I have my doctor’s appointments. It’s been a godsend.”

Steven Gray has been a driver with the Outside Transportation Department for the past 20 years and has seen a little bit of everything over the years, while helping patients to and from their medical appointments.

“It is great to be able to help people,” said Steven. “I could write a book on some of the stories people have told me over the years. A lot of these folks would not be coming to the hospital if we did not bring them. They do not have transportation or family. It is basically just us.”

Rhonda Shipp has ridden with OST since 2012 due to mobility restrictions with her wheelchair and uses it for all of her medical appointments.

“This service is really appreciated. I am not on Medicaid and for a lot of the services you have to be in order for them to pick you up, or some of them you have to be over the age of 65,” said Rhonda. “I would not be able to get to all of my appointments without this service.”

The OST department is always there for patients as a reliable service to assist them with attending their medical appointments and treatments. Without community support of the Patient Transportation Fund, patients would face multiple costly taxi rides or simply miss necessary medical appointments. Through the fund, the service is able to assist with the maintenance of the vehicles and future purchases to ensure patients in need are helped. Generous donations from donors to the Patient Transportation Fund provide patients the opportunity to attend all of their appointments and not limit them due to lack of transportation.  

“I think this is fabulous to have this here in the area. I am 84 and my husband is 90, and neither one of us can drive. My vision is too poor and his health does not allow him to drive. I do not know what we would do without it. We moved down here because we have family, but they all work during the day and they are not able to take us,” said Wilma Williams. “They are very reliable. I have never had anyone not show up.”

TRAVELING THE MILES

Mark Stevenson has driven part-time for OST for the past two years and did not realize the amount of patients without transportation. In addition to patients traveling to Phelps Health, Mark has recently started driving patients in the Pulaski County area to the Phelps Health Waynesville Medical Plaza.

“These people need the transportation because they have no other way to get to their appointments. Especially when a doctor tells them they are unable to drive for medical reasons. A taxi ride can be $8-$10 for one ride and if you have to come five to six times a month, it adds up. Some people do not have that available in their budget. It is amazing that we can help them,” said Mark.

Connie Jones rode with OST after her knee replacement surgery in 2018.

After her recent knee replacement surgery, Connie Jones started riding with OST.

“I had my knee replacement surgery and about a week later I started physical therapy. I have to go three times a week for the next three months,” said Connie. “I had never used the service before my surgery and arranged it since I am unable to drive. My son takes me sometimes, but the majority of the time they come pick me up. They are wonderful.”

The Patient Transportation Fund is essential for patients who need transportation for therapy, treatments, or regular doctor’s visits. The Outside Transportation Department sees patients with a wide variety of needs and the service is an extension of their overall experience at Phelps Health. Without the service, many patients who have wheelchair needs, mobility limitations, or need additional help would be without the medical assistance they need on a regular basis.

For more information on the Patient Transportation Fund or to make a donation, please contact Marsha Rana Wayman, CFRE, at (573) 458-7946 or mwayman@phelpshealth.org.