Demand drives need for second shuttle

Local philanthopists, Margaret and Bernard Pearson, with the St John ambulance they helped fund for Cambridge in 2016.

Cambridge will soon get its second St John Health Shuttle vehicle and is sounding the call for locals to help swell the pool of volunteer drivers. The first free community health shuttle was launched here in 2015, but increasing demand has hastened the need for another.

A total of $35,000 has been raised to cover the purchase costs of the Hyundai Tuscon vehicle, the defibrillator it will carry, and to have it sign-written. The new shuttle is expected to go into service within the next few weeks.

Cambridge Health Shuttle team leader Brent Nielsen said the funds had come via two generous donations. One was from the Frances Skeet Charitable Trust, managed by Accounted4, and the other through local philanthropists, Margaret and Bernard Pearson. In late 2016 the Pearsons donated a new ambulance to Cambridge St John, electing to make the gesture after reading about the service at Lauriston Park Retirement Village, where they live.

“They heard of our need for a second vehicle, and offered to help fund it,” said Brent.  “We are very lucky to be the benefactors of two exceptional and generous donations.”

Rapid growth in client numbers has brought the need for a second shuttle into focus. Brent said the existing vehicle is currently doing about 300 client journeys a month, with its 10-seater capacity almost always filled. “It has steadily grown to that number … indications are that if we continue tracking that way, we could get close to 500 journeys a month within a year.

“Our population growth is one reason, but it is also a fact that mainly older people use the health shuttle – although not exclusively – and that is a fast-growing demographic everywhere in New Zealand. It is anticipated there will be a further 33 percent growth across that sector in the coming decade.”

Most journeys are to Waikato Hospital or other health-related appointments in the city; the van often does up to five trips a day to and from Hamilton.  Many clients require transportation to and from similar appointments in Cambridge, and up to a quarter of the pick-ups are from outside Cambridge township.

Other related transportation providers are also understood to be increasingly busy.

Keeping the wheels rolling is a dedicated team of trained volunteers. The optimum team number is nine for the existing shuttle, but Brent thinks around 15 will be needed with a second vehicle in service.

Cambridge’s Richard Vaughan has volunteered with the service for the past two years, and really enjoys it.

“Until then I had been involved with Community House, and I wanted to continue being involved with a community support group in a way that meant I didn’t have the headache of administrative work,” he said. “This is perfect for me. The two things I probably enjoy most about it are the relationships built up with some of the regular clients, and the fact it has made me realise how lucky I am to have good health. It helps you put extra value on your own life.”

Having two health shuttles in Waikato towns is not uncommon, said Brent. Te Awamutu, Morrinsville and Te Aroha have two, while Matamata has three.

Potential volunteers would need to be able-bodied individuals with a clean criminal record and a standard car driver’s licence. While their time is given voluntarily, team members are provided with a uniform and are given reimbursement to enable them to buy light refreshments while waiting at client appointments.

Those keen to enlist – or find out more – should contact Brent Nielsen on either 823 7551 or 021 576 136.

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