For the first time since she began at East Parry Sound Community Support Services nearly 20 years ago, program coordinator Leslie Price says the agency is advertising for volunteer drivers.
The agency drives mostly seniors and people on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program who don't have other means to get to medical appointments.
However, Price says the call for drivers doesn't mean the support group is experiencing a shortage.
“We're just looking ahead and preparing for things to come just in case,” she said.
Price says the Meals on Wheels program and transporting people to medical appointments, the volunteer drivers easily rack up more than one million kilometres a year as they take people to places like Toronto, Ottawa, Sudbury or within the East Parry Sound District as needs dictate.
East Parry Sound Community Support Services was one of the few support agencies that didn't suspend its transportation program when COVID-19 hit.
Price says the number of rides during COVID-19 did drop, as some doctors were able to conduct patient appointments over the phone or virtually.
But there were still appointments which had to be conducted in-person, such as various tests or treatments.
What also continued were things like prescription pickups or visits to a dentist or chiropractor.
Price says the number of weekly rides, which numbered around 100, is just about back to where it was pre-COVID.
She says some volunteer drivers who have been performing the service for quite a while were thinking of retiring before COVID.
Price says when the virus arrived, that group of drivers moved up their plans.
Price says despite the early departure of some drivers, East Parry Sound Community Support Services has been able to maintain its transportation program to the fullest.
“We haven't had to turn anyone away and we don't want to be in that position,” Price said.
“It's not acceptable for people to not be able to get to a medical appointment because they don't have a ride.”
Price said advertising for the additional drivers may also help nearby support agencies outside the East Parry Sound area in the event they're not back up to speed yet when getting their respective clients to medical appointments.
“We would simply act as a backup to outlying areas as required,” she said.
Price says most drivers are people who have retired from the workforce.
If they would like to be considered as a volunteer driver for Community Support Services they can call 705-724-6028 or 1-888-521-0000.
Price says potential applicants need a reliable vehicle and their insurance company needs to know that they are doing volunteer driving.
In addition, there's a records search to make sure there are no traffic violations.
Price adds applicants have to also agree to a criminal record background check because the drivers will be dealing with a vulnerable sector of society and CSS is not about to put its clients at risk.
Drivers are reimbursed at 45 cents per kilometre.
Most of the driving would be weekdays, with the occasional weekend trip to a hospital for treatment when necessary.
Price also says the drivers can “drive as much or as little as they want.”
“Some volunteers drive several days a week, whereas others drive on a more occasional basis,” she said.
“There is no mandatory number of rides they need to provide. They tell us when they are available, and they never need to feel any sense of obligation if they aren’t available. There is also no obligation for them to take on the out-of-town appointments like taking someone to Toronto if that is not something they are interested in. We basically ask them what they are willing to do and schedule from there.
“We have some drivers who will go anywhere, anyplace, anytime and others who help out here and there when they can. And we are grateful for both.”
Price says in the event other support drive agencies aren't fully operational yet, the local drivers would need to travel outside the East Parry Sound boundary to pick up the client and then take the person to the medical-related destination.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget