A driving force behind Haliburton’s vaccine effort

·2 min read

Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) volunteer driver Bill Elliott said plenty of people need a lift to get to a medical appointment – including vaccinations.

Volunteer drivers have begun transporting people across the County to get vaccinations and had done that for approximately a dozen people as of March 29, according to vice-president of community programs Stephanie MacLaren. HHHS offers transportation services for adults with disabilities and people 55 and over.

Elliott said the process has gone smoothly so far, whether passengers go into the clinic themselves or he helps them.

“It’s an ageing community and there are a lot of remote areas,” he said. “A lot of elderly don’t drive or don’t like driving a long distance.”

Most people in the County are bound to book an appointment for a vaccine in the coming months. The process is underway for people aged 75 and older and priority groups such as healthcare workers, including volunteer drivers themselves. The province has planned for vaccination for all people 60-79 between April and July, with people younger than that starting in July.

MacLaren said they expect transportation demand might increase, but they have no way of knowing for certain.

“While there is a higher percentage of people in the community who are in the lower end of the age bracket of the senior’s population, their needs with respect to transportation assistance may be less as well,” she said. “It is certainly our intent to be as responsive to the need in the community as it emerges.”

She added HHHS has maintained a strong contingent of volunteer drivers, even with demand decreased throughout the pandemic due to fewer in-person appointments.

“HHHS volunteer drivers have stayed stalwart in their dedication to our clients and community, with many necessary medical trips still occurring. We are seeing this level of dedication in the vaccination response as well. Volunteers are eager to support in whatever way they can,” she said.

Ron Roberts is one of those drivers and said he has been doing the task for 11 years. He said he is glad to be able to help others.

“There are wonderful people in our area and volunteering is very important. The people I’ve met have paid back for every hour of volunteering I’ve done,” Roberts said. “I’m just happy to be here for them.”

The program has had to adjust amidst the pandemic. Passengers and drivers must remain masked, distanced and pass screening questions, MacLaren said. Drivers must also disinfect their vehicles after every trip.

Elliott said the vaccination clinics have been well-organized and he is happy to help people through them when needed.

“The patients that I took felt really comfortable going in and out and that was a good thing for me,” Elliott said. “To me, it’s all about the patients.”

Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander