SunLive – New shuttle service a boost for Kawerau’s health

The launch of a new health shuttle service makes it much easier for residents of Kawerau district to manage their health.

On Tuesday, an opening ceremony and benediction took place for the St John Kawerau Health Shuttle in the city’s St John building.

The new service includes two new vehicles, a van and a five-seater car, and nine freshly trained volunteer drivers who will undergo training and provide the service.

It is for anyone in Kawerau District who faces obstacles in getting to their health appointments, whether in Kawerau or in hospitals in Tauranga, Whakatāne and Rotorua.

Anyone needing help getting to an appointment can book a shuttle over the phone and be picked up from their home and driven home after their appointment.

The service is free, although a koha is welcome and for patients eligible for a travel allowance, these can be administered through the service.

The new service was launched by a phone call to St John from Kawerau Mayor Malcolm Campbell in December 2019.

Campbell saw that the community needed help getting to medical appointments, especially for older people who are no longer able to drive, and asked St John to consider providing a service to the district .

Kawerau District Council has been a strong supporter of the service ever since.

A community volunteer task force was formed and the community was surveyed as to the need for the service.

With no taxi service in town, limited bus service and many people needing to access out-of-town medical services, it was decided to go ahead.

Both vehicles were purchased in July last year, with $40,000 funding from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council through the St John Fleet Division. Funding for the service was also provided by the Kawerau Training and Education Trust and a donation from the whānau of the late Tracey Neilsen, who was a devoted member of St John.

Regional Council Chairman Doug Leeder and Kawerau Deputy Mayor Faylene Tunui formally handed over the keys to the vehicles to longtime St John member Lyn Price.

St John’s Community Health Services Deputy Chief Executive Sarah Manley addressed the attendees, saying it was the service’s 54th shuttle service which had been launched nationally since the launch of the first serve in 1991 to Hamilton and Feilding.

Since then, 93 vehicles have been introduced to the fleet, and this was the first time that two vehicles have been launched together. In Orient Bay, a similar service was launched in Ōpōtiki in August 2020.

“Being able to attend medical appointments helps patients and whānau proactively manage their health and enables the healthcare system to provide continuity of care. This is part of our work to improve access to services and generate more equitable health outcomes in our communities,” Ms. Manley said.

Campbell was unable to attend the launch as he was spending time with his family, but Deputy Mayor Faylene Tunui, who had been closely involved in the process, spoke on behalf of the council, thanking everyone who had worked for bring the shuttle service into town, including these community task force members.

She says the service doesn’t limit itself to transportation, but advocates for patients when necessary.

She gives the example of someone who might have an appointment at 8 a.m. and would need to drive two or three hours to get there.

“Some of us just need a little help advocating on our behalf.”

A dedication was made by St John’s Chaplain, Reverend Tom Poata and a blessing in te reo Maori was made by Matua Te Haukakawa Te Rire.

Nine volunteers have undergone intensive training to become shuttle drivers and other volunteers are currently undergoing training. The training includes aspects of first aid and cultural safety.

Most of the volunteers have previous experience with St John, including Brian Dent, who was a paramedic for 12 years.

They welcome the opportunity to get out and give back to the community.

Reservations for the shuttle can be made by calling 0800 824 325 at least 24 hours before the scheduled meeting.

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