Health van driver John Giampino helps Juanita Tennyson of Dundee into a wheelchair as part of the service to the Great Lakes Dialysis Center in Monroe.
LAMBERTVILLE - Rosamary Calice calls herself “a bionic woman,” and with good reason. The sprightly 86-year-old's recent health history sounds like an HMO's worst nightmare.
“First I started out with just a regular doctor, then a foot doctor, then the dentist. Then I had a problem with my heart. Then I had to have two artificial knees and two hip replacements. Plus a stroke - I don't want to forget that,” Mrs. Calice said.
In all, just maintaining what's left of her health means about a half-dozen trips a month to one doctor or another, trips made so much easier by a popular service provided to Bedford Township's senior citizens, the Bedford Health Van.
Begun in 1989 with a single donated van, the Bedford Health Van program operated jointly by the Monroe County Commission on Aging and the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program has grown into a life-saving necessity for many township residents.
The program now operates four vans with a crew of seven part-time drivers, and provides as many as 450 rides a year to township residents visiting various medical providers throughout Monroe County and Toledo, program co-director Meg Smith said.
“Just scheduling that many rides is quite a feat in itself,” Mrs. Smith said.
For the scores of seniors in Bedford Township that rely on the fleet of health vans and drivers to make their medical appointments, the service is an invaluable convenience that allows them to maintain at least some independence, Mrs. Calice said.
“I've used it ever since it started. It's wonderful to have a service like that,” said Mrs. Calice, who lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Douglas Road Elementary School Principal Rose Nearpass and her husband, attorney Les Nearpass.
“They can't just leave a meeting to pick me up and take me someplace, and I don't expect them to. Having the van is just very convenient,” Mrs. Calice said.
The health van program began with a van donated by a Wauseon man whose parents lived in Bedford Township and “who wanted to make sure his mom and dad could get to their medical appointments,” Mrs. Smith said.
From those meager beginnings, the program has grown exponentially.
Last year, the health van ran more than 300 trips to local medical providers, about 48 percent of which were provided to dialysis patients with no other means to receive their life-saving treatment.
For the last six years, the customer fees for the round-trip service has been just $15, most of which was paid by the client's insurance providers.
As of May 1, however, rising gas and operating costs will force the per-ride fee to $20 for those over 60, Mrs. Smith said.
“For door-to-door service, that's still pretty good,” Mrs. Smith said. The Health Van's fleet will be increasing later this spring when it takes delivery of a new $42,000 vehicle that can accommodate two wheelchairs at the same time, something the agency's minivans cannot do now.
Funding for the new commercial van comes from grants from the Monroe County Commission on Aging, customer fees, and a few other sources, Mrs. Smith said.
The vans run regardless of weather, holidays, or impediment, Mrs. Smith said. Drivers have gone so far as to shovel senior's driveways in order to make appointments.
Mrs. Calice relies on the health van fleet as a regular part of her health care regime, scheduling her appointments for rides just as soon as she schedules her doctor's appointments.
With very few exceptions, she said, the service has been remarkable.
“They don't forget me. Well, they did once, but that was unusual, and that's another story,” she said with a chuckle.
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