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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune

Call-A-Ride volunteer Larry Cooper watches as Kathy Nystrom gets in his car for a ride from the main entrance of Providence Medford Medical Center.

Call-A-Ride calls out for drivers

Two years after a stroke led to a slew of medical woes, Shady Cove resident Wanda Von Holle worries she won’t be able to get to her doctor’s appointments.

Von Holle said she has been grateful for the Call-A-Ride program, which uses volunteer drivers to transport people in need to medical appointments. But recently, due to summer vacations, attrition and increased demand, the program has become strapped for drivers.

Von Holle, 81, a retired LPN, said she’d be lining up to become a volunteer driver herself if she hadn’t had a heart attack last March.

“My situation is really urgent now. I’m going to be heading to an appointment with my internist, and I’m trying to make sure I’ll be able to get a ride,” she said.

“Call-A-Ride is trying to move me up, but I’m way out here in Shady Cove, and they’re already short on volunteers. I’m just really stuck. I could try to call the other service, but it’s a few dollars each way. That doesn’t sound like a lot of money to most people, but when you have several appointments each month, it really adds up on a fixed income. It’s hard when you don’t have your own wheels.”

Call-A-Ride coordinators say the driver shortage — and the importance of medical transport — means many volunteers are working extra hours to help meet demand. The program matches drivers with clients based on driver availability and schedule preferences of the clients.

Operated under the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, sponsored locally by Pacific Retirement Services, Call-A-Ride could use at least a dozen more volunteers, said Becky Snyder, Community Volunteer Network executive director.

“We have about 250 clients, and until recently we were already down to about 24 or 25 drivers. Now we have so many people on vacation that we probably have maybe 17 drivers,” Snyder said.

“The drivers we do have, these are volunteers. We can’t ask them to be driving all day long, so when we can’t cover the demand for services, we have to prioritize. Obviously, clients going to dialysis or radiation are going to have to be prioritized. We’re just trying to do as best we can.”

Snyder said drivers can pick and choose where and when they drive. The program currently doesn’t have any drivers for Ashland clients.

Larry Cooper, who has been volunteering for Call-A-Ride for 12 years, said he would be hard-pressed to name a service more desperately needed than medical transportation. A retired baker, Cooper often takes early ride requests that other volunteers avoid.

“I do it practically on a daily basis sometimes. I think I get told 20 times a day, ‘Thank you. I could not get to my appointment without your help.’ I’ve been called everything from an angel to a good Samaritan. The vast majority of our clients could not get their needs taken care of without us doing this,” Cooper said.

“Quite often, if we didn’t drive them, they just simply wouldn’t go to their appointments. It’s rewarding to know you’re making a difference.”

Pat and Fred Seggelink of Medford, who have been volunteering as drivers for 16 and 22 years, respectively, say they enjoy helping fellow retirees. Pat Seggelink said the program is a good fit for seniors who sometimes travel, and she’s hopeful enough volunteers can be found to prevent clients from going without needed rides.

“For potential volunteers, there’s a niche for people who really do want to give back to the community but have different schedules. We feel like it’s really important to volunteer, and this was a good fit with our traveling and other activities that we do,” she said.

“It’s just a wonderful program, and the people we transport are so appreciative. The important thing is to get volunteers to drive. Some of the clients have very real medical needs. When you have someone who is on dialysis three times a week, it’s not a matter of, ‘Oh, I can’t get a ride today, I’ll reschedule it.’”

Volunteers for Call-A-Ride, under rules set up for the federally funded program, must be 55 or older and pass a background check. Some mileage reimbursement is available for drivers. People interested in volunteering should call 541-857-7783 or email prs@retirement.org.

For more information, see https://www.retirement.org/about/volunteer-network/volunteer-opportunities#rsvp.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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