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Published: Wednesday, 7/7/2004

Oregon: St. Charles shuttle service discontinued

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When St. Charles Mercy Hospital discontinued its free shuttle service for patients, it was strictly a matter of dollars and cents.

But for those residents who called on the vans for transportation to and from the Oregon hospital, the cost-cutting measure meant a loss of independence and for some, dignity.

The service, which has been available since 1988, was officially discontinued June 18 because of budgetary concerns, hospital officials said. That disturbs Oregon resident Lola Kerbel, who is left with few transportation options.

"You lose your dignity when you have to ask people to do something," said Ms. Kerbel, 72. "You have only so many favors you can ask of people."

Ms. Kerbel, who cannot drive because of a degenerative eye disease, said without the van she will be forced to ask her family, who don't live nearby, or her neighbors, for a ride to her doctor appointments. For others with more serious diseases, the lack of transportation could be worse, she said.

The three St. Charles courtesy vans are used for about 5,000 trips a year, said Bob Wyszczelski, metro director of security communications. Over the years, the free service has cost St. Charles between $100,000 and $140,000 to operate annually.

The courtesy vans will only be discontinued at St. Charles, although St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center also offers shuttle service to patients. The difference, said Mr. Wyszczelski, is that the service at St. Vincent is limited and paid for with grant money.

"We were looking at services throughout the facility and this was a service that was solely subsidized by the [St. Charles] hospital, there was no outside funding," he said. Hospital officials said that when looking to scale back spending, the hospital of course first looked at services that did not impact patient care.

Oregon Mayor Marge Brown said she understands the concerns of residents who relied on the service. Although the city cannot afford to take over the program, Ms. Brown said she is hoping to garner financial support from local

companies to bring back the program.

In the meantime, hospital officials gave riders notice that the Area Office on Aging can potentially provide driving services. Ms. Brown said she is also hoping to start up a three-year pilot dial-a-ride program to Oregon, where to date there has been no public transportation.

"As of now, they're just going to have to ask a neighbor, a family member, I don't know," she said. As for bringing public transportation to her city, the mayor said, "everything is in the works."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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