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Transportation volunteer offers a vital link to health and community

Shirley Sunstrum has been a volunteer driver for Carefor for the past 10 years. Three times a week she gets behind the wheel of her Honda HR-V and takes Carefor clients to their health care appointments. “Initially I started out doing local driving, basically took people to mental health programs, eye appointments, medical doctors,” she says. “And then I decided to do some of the long-distance drives. I have a call to take a lady for a medical appointment in Ottawa today.”

When we think about healthcare, we often think of it in terms of locations: hospitals, clinics, offices and homes. However, we often don’t think of what we don’t see, and in the cars of people like Shirley is a service that ties these health care services together for many people. As one of our drivers, Gary Hobbes, said, “What good is a doctor’s appointment if you can’t get to it?”

And there are many people who rely on non-urgent medical transportation. Coordinated out of our Renfrew County and Eastern Counties offices, Carefor drivers provided over 41,000 rides to over 37,000 people last year alone.

While many of the people providing these rides are paid Carefor employees, there are approximately 30 people like Shirley who volunteer their time to help make sure people access the care they need. “Without our volunteers, many people wouldn’t be able to get to their vital medical appointments,” says Transportation Supervisor, Greg Stevenson.

In Renfrew County where Shirley is based, there isn’t any public transit and taxis are prohibitively expensive, especially for people living on a fixed income. As the majority of people who use the service are seniors or people living with mental health challenges, cost can be a real barrier to accessing local health care services.

The cost of Carefor’s transportation services depend on distance, but relative to other services, are far more affordable. “Seniors benefit especially from that,” says Shirley. “It’s door to do. If you take a bus, they can’t take one with a walker.” While Carefor employs drivers, volunteers like Shirley allow us to offer more rides to more people. But the benefit isn’t just to our clients.

Shirley is quick to recognize the value that volunteering has on her. “For me, it lets me help the community,” she says. “I was looking for something to do because I’m not the type of person to sit around. The driving is two-fold. It gets me up and out the door in the morning, and it helps people.”

As someone who lives alone, Shirley also recognizes the connection the service offers seniors and people living with mental health challenges, many of whom are alone. “The value of transportation in healthcare is huge, especially for people who are alone. They don’t have anyone to call for a drive. I think it’s a tremendous service.”

Thank you, Shirley and all our volunteer drivers who offer their time and kindness to help people in their communities who are going through challenging times. You offer comfort and connection. You help people feel less alone and are an essential link in our health care system.

Carefor offers non-urgent medical transportation as part of our community services. To learn more about our community programs in Pembroke-Renfrew County or to learn more about being a volunteer driver for Carefor or any type of volunteering with us, please visit our website.