Critical need for volunteer drivers in region
Drivers can set their own schedule and transportation area.
WADENA — If you find you have some spare time and enjoy helping others, perhaps volunteering your time to drive is right for you.
Volunteer drivers are currently needed to get patients to and from their important appointments increasingly throughout Minnesota.
Recent changes in transportation coverage for many members of Wadena County, coupled with the COVID pandemic, has adversely impacted the county's Volunteer Driver Program.
"During the past legislative session, the House and the Senate agreed to legislation that would increase reimbursement for Non-Emergency Medical Transport (NEMT) for people across the State of Minnesota," according to Wadena County Human Services Director Jennifer Westrum. "The problem is the legislation was never passed. Without a special session, we will need to wait another year for this increase. The agencies which provide these rides are dealing with increased staffing costs and fuel prices and as such, can no longer provide the rides so desperately needed for medical care in the rural counties. Patients who need dialysis, for example, are struggling to find rides to transport them and this then becomes a life threatening problem."
Wadena County has historically had a robust volunteer driver program to transport residents to many of their appointments when they have no other means of transportation. With the presentation of COVID, many drivers were no longer able to transport.
"We are now down to two volunteer drivers for the entire county," Westrum said. "This leaves so many vulnerable people without transportation."
In early June, companies around the state that offer non-emergency medical transportation announced that they would no longer offer fee-for-service rides for Minnesotans on Medical Assistance, the state's Medicaid program.
That means about 260,000 low-income Minnesotans who are eligible for state support could lose access to their service for getting to and from medical appointments.
Transportation company leaders earlier this year pleaded with Minnesota lawmakers to boost state reimbursement rates for the ride services. The rates have remained flat for a decade while costs ballooned, they said.
But after the Legislature closed out last month without approving a change, the company leaders said they couldn't continue to offer the rides as they also tried to navigate costs for gas, workers, insurance coverage and vehicle repairs.
Human Services staff in Wadena County are working with Friendly Rider, Wadena County's transit service, to find volunteers to transport county residents (children and adults) to medical, and dental appointments. Wadena County Transit Director Randy Jahnke said the transits roll in the program is to promote drivers and help assign rides for those drivers.
Drivers would use their personal vehicles and mileage reimbursement is available. Drivers set their own schedule and transportation area.
If you can help, contact Friendly Rider Transit at 218-631-5730 for more information.