- Author: Amy Conrick
- Date: January 14, 2021
This is the first in a series of blog posts on this topic. In this blog, I will share some…
The saying, “think outside the box,” is used to inspire innovative ideas designed to overcome challenging and complex circumstances. However, in Northern New York (NNY), the Volunteer Transportation Center (VTC) is encouraging regional medical and transportation stakeholders to adopt their replicable model, “VTC In a Box,” where all the components of a successful volunteer transportation service have been thoughtfully designed and tested.
What is it?
This volunteer transportation model is a trusted volunteer model that began 30 years ago by the local United Way to address a lack of transportation to medical appointments and other life-sustaining activities. Over the years, the VTC sustainably grew its network of volunteers and identified how best to replicate its services and support other communities in adopting the volunteer program.
Currently operating in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Genesee, Oswego, Erie, and Madison Counties, as well as the Southern Tier, the VTC’s philosophy continues to focus on providing transportation but has turned to helping other communities adopt the model and overcome the burdensome aspects of starting a volunteer service. Such aspects include identifying and contracting with partners, recruiting, and onboarding volunteers, completing insurance claims and reimbursing drivers for their incurred mileage.
What’s “In the Box?”
Once partners are identified and contracts are in place, policies and procedures, driver training materials, and the proprietary software are shared with the local partner agency. Beginning nearly a year from the targeted transition date, VTC staff and the community partner begin planning for program structure, staff, and driver recruitment as well as establishing a financially-sound reimbursement model for the new “In the Box” solution. This can mean establishing contracts with nonprofit agencies, local Office for the Aging and eventually the Medicaid broker local to the project. To accomplish all of this with ease, the VTC team has developed a proprietary software package called SNAP.
Through SNAP, eligible riders are matched with a volunteer driver who facilitates rides across the region to those who otherwise would not have access medical appointments and other care. Best practices for community outreach, stakeholder engagement and volunteer recruitment are also shared to expand the volunteer driver pool in each new community.
Flexibility is key with volunteer driver programs and understanding the unique relationships, needs, and desires of a community help determine how a service may be integrated into the existing stakeholder network. The model is based on an understanding that with strong local partnerships, and a dedicated core of trusted and reliable volunteers, the program can be successfully adopted and services can be financially sustained through insurance reimbursement.
In the past year, the VTC has spread this successful strategy to Madison County, New York, by partnering with Madison County Rural Health Council and Madison County Office for the Aging/RSVP to enhance medical transportation services for those 60+ who need a ride. By establishing a working relationship with these partners, the VTC strengthened the coordination between key stakeholders while simultaneously recruiting and developing a volunteer driver pool in the region.
Over time, Madison County Rural Health Council will fully adopt the program and become responsible for recruiting volunteers, completing insurance reimbursements, and facilitating ongoing community fundraising to cover unmet operational costs.
Interested volunteers apply to become certified drivers and must provide their vehicle registration and insurance, possess a valid driver’s license, pass a background check and pass a vehicle inspection. Once approved, the volunteer must attend an extensive orientation where they receive training on how to be a safe and courteous driver, learn the expectations of their role, and how to use the volunteer driver software that assigns trips, tracks mileage and completes reimbursements. During this orientation, their vehicle is inspected for cleanliness, safety, age and working order.
Once certified to drive, VTC drivers use their own vehicles to transport neighbors to medical, dental, mental health and other life-sustaining services. Drivers are reimbursed at the standard IRS mileage rate from their door to the drop-off location and home.
The VTC Volunteer Network:
Currently, the VTC network extends from the Canadian border in Northern New York to the Pennsylvania border in Southern New York. In total, about 800 daily one-way trips are completed across the service area, ensuring riders have access to a large network of possible medical appointments. Appointments can vary from routine, hour-long visits, 30-40 miles away to specialist care only accessible in cities in neighboring states as far away as Boston.
Volunteers are the backbone of this program and without their dedication and determination to drive their neighbors to medical and other essential services, many would forego the life-sustaining medical care only accessible by this loyal band of volunteer drivers. The VTC hopes to continue growing its network of dedicated volunteers through new partnerships
About the VTC:
A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the VTC provides essential rides to health, social, and other destinations for residents of Northern New York who have no other transportation alternatives. In 2021, volunteer drivers provided 26,711 charitable trips over 1,073,435 miles in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties. Of those miles, 470,002 helped those in Jefferson County, 151,954 in Lewis County, and 451,479 in St. Lawrence County. That equated to approximately $477,679 in mileage reimbursement for volunteers.
To apply to become a volunteer driver, please review the requirements at the VTC Driving Website or call to learn more, (315) 788-0422. To learn more about the “VTC In a Box” program, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Kirby Wilhelm (email@example.com).
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