Transportation volunteers are Godsend

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 2, 2005

JACKSON – It’s been said one of the biggest strengths Northampton County has are its people, and judging from the selflessness and commitment displayed day in and day out by Department of Social Services volunteer drivers, nothing is more true.

Many Medicaid recipients are, no doubt, thankful for the extra miles taken by the 26 individuals currently serving as volunteers for the Medicaid driver program.

The program is designed to help provide transportation to Medicaid recipients who might not have otherwise been able to get to a doctor’s appointment, the hospital or other medical facility,

&uot;Quite simply, they fill in the gap for patients who have scheduling conflicts with getting to their appointments,&uot; said Mona Taylor, Income Maintenance Supervisor II, who specializes as Adult Medicaid Supervisor for Northampton County Department of Social Services.

&uot;The department has had the program for as long as I can remember,&uot; said the 20-year DSS veteran who took over the program four years ago.

The program, which is funded through Medicaid, provides transportation services to those with full coverage benefits (blue Medicaid card, pink card if pregnant) to help them maintain their appointments.

&uot;A lot of our volunteers are retired citizens who have lots of time during the day,&uot; Taylor said. &uot;They are an extension to help Medicaid recipients, many of whom are elderly, remember when they are scheduled for their appointments.&uot;

Taylor noted in addition to providing a way of getting to the hospital for surgeries or medical appointments such as dialysis, chemo and radiation therapy, the volunteers serve as a kind of unofficial support group.

&uot;They are frequently there in the waiting room when the patients receive bad news and it gives them someone they can lean on emotionally as they walk through those difficult moments,&uot; she said. &uot;We try to treat those we serve as if they were one of our own relatives.&uot;

Drivers are screened to ensure they possess a valid operators license, liability insurance on their vehicle and a clean driving record and are also required to undergo a background check before being allowed to serve.

&uot;We are very fortunate to have the volunteers we have,&uot; Taylor said.

At last count, the number of individuals on Medicaid in Northampton County totaled 5,426 with approximately 1,200 (22%) utilizing the volunteer transportation services.

Husband and wife team T.C and Helen Stephenson, who have served as volunteer drivers for past 16 years, said they got involved in the program shortly after retiring.

&uot;We didn’t want to sit home and be unproductive when we could do something productive by helping other people in our community,&uot; Helen Stephenson said. &uot;It makes us feel good and gives us a reason to get out of the house to mingle with people who many times are going through some pretty trying times,&uot; she said.

Walter Goldsberry, who has been a volunteer driver for approximately six years, agreed. &uot;I like working with people and when I retired I got tired of sitting around with nothing to do, so I decided to volunteer.&uot;

Goldsberry admits, however, the job isn’t for everyone.

&uot;You have to have a lot of patience,&uot; he said, noting that sometimes his travel causes him to make trips to places like Jacksonville twice in one day.

&uot;A lot of days, the older people will tell us that they don’t know how they would have gotten to their appointments,&uot; said Stephenson, citing six people with cancer who have specifically requested them as volunteers.

&uot;Sometimes the appointments require us to make back-to-back trips as far away as Chapel Hill and Jacksonville, which is kind of rough, but we still try and carry them all,&uot; she said.

Goldberry, who transports several foster kids to their medical appointments, said he could see the difference his efforts are making.

&uot;A lot of their attitudes have changed,&uot; he said. &uot;They were a little rough at first, but once I took the time to get to know them, I begin to understand them and I’ve never had any problem with them. I feel very good about the impact I’m having as a volunteer.&uot;

Taylor commented, &uot;In our society today, there are very few families who are within close proximity to one another, many of them living in different states across the country. That’s why the volunteers are so important. They give the client someone they can depend on as well as a friend they can talk to about the procedures they’re going through.&uot;

For the first time, last November, DSS hosted a banquet to honor volunteer efforts.

&uot;We just wanted them to realize how much they were appreciated,&uot; Taylor said.

&uot;I couldn’t work for a better group of people,&uot; Goldsberry said. &uot;I’ve never had a job that I enjoyed more or that I derive so much happiness from. If I had to quit driving, I don’t know what I would do, that’s how much I love it.&uot;

For more information on volunteer transportation services, contact Northampton County DSS at 252-534-5811 and ask for &uot;transportation&uot;.