The Courtesy Coach Drivers and Aides are a group of compassionate and dedicated volunteers. Their mission is to support the Saint Joseph Health System by providing transportation for the local and rural community members to and from doctor’s appointments. The Tawas City, Michigan, group now boasts 14 drivers.
The Courtesy Coach Drivers and Aides were organized in 1997. This organization was born a result of Tawas City Saint Joseph Health System’s realization that there was a problem with some of their patients returning for follow-up treatment and preventive care. After some research, it was determined that the patients were unable to come back to Saint Joseph’s due to lack of transportation or access to public transportation. The Volunteer Service Department, headed by Catherine Nickell-Simpson, recognized the need and put a plan in motion to meet this need. After two years of program evaluation and fund raising efforts, the Courtesy Coach Drivers and Aides became a reality. The efforts of the Saint Joseph Healthcare System Auxiliary were instrumental in the programs implementation. By July of 1997, approximately $30,000 had been raised to purchase a 1997 GMC handicapped-accessible van that includes a wheelchair lift.
The next phase of the project was recruiting people to drive the “coach.” The Volunteer Service Department solicited workers from among those who were already volunteering at the hospital, and initially were contacted by five people who were willing to drive without receiving a paycheck. The drivers are responsible for completing two days of training, which includes a volunteer orientation program and handicap sensitivity training. They are also responsible for meeting the hospital’s infection control training requirements. The drivers are required to have a current chauffeur license, First Aid, Safety, and CPR training as well as hands on training to operate the van and the van’s wheelchair lift.
By 1998 the Courtesy Coach Drivers and Aides logged in 1,846 hours transporting patients 19,336 miles. By 1999, the volunteers increased to 14 drivers and logged in 2,875 hours covering 26,153 miles. They drive five days a week and as much as 200 miles a day. Their volunteer work can start as early as six in the morning and end at six in the evening. They also service five counties in the Michigan area.
The corps of volunteers who provide this service strive to ensure their passengers are met with compassion, caring and patience. They assist with the comfort and safety of the residents of various nursing homes in Tawas City as well as those who live independently. The Aides are just as integral to the operation as the drivers. They act as a navigator for the drivers and assist the riders when they enter and exit the van. Both the drivers and the aides are thoughtful and caring people who enjoy making a difference for the people they transport. They count it a joy to be able to bring some relief into someone else’s life. Some days the drivers and aides treat the patients to an ice cream cone or buy them lunch. Their acts of kindness and cheerful countenance make a patient’s day much brighter.