News Feature

The Island
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 3, 2018
Island Health & Wellness Foundation launches transportation initiative

Transportation to and from medical appointments is an acute need on Deer Isle. At a January 2015 community meeting sponsored by Healthy Island Project and Healthy Peninsula’s Thriving in Place initiative on how to improve community services on Deer Isle, the overwhelming concern voiced by local community members was lack of transportation, with a focus on routine and medical transportation.

In response, Island Health & Wellness Foundation’s Board of Directors made transportation one of the three key fundraising initiatives in honor of their 50th anniversary in 2016, according to a news release.

The community responded, and within six months, IHWF had raised $50,000 to be used over a period of five years to address medical transportation needs.

For the past two years, IHWF has partnered with Friends in Action to sponsor a local coordinator for the Deer Isle-Stonington area with an office at Island Family Medicine. FIA is an Ellsworth-based nonprofit organization that offers free services, including transportation, to residents of Hancock County. Friends in Action continues to provide rides for Deer Isle-Stonington residents with local volunteers coordinated through its main office and no longer maintains an office at Island Family Medicine.

“Even though, ultimately, Friends in Action decided to centrally locate the coordination of rides to their home office in Ellsworth, we felt confident that our Island patients could still access their valuable services without interruption,” Anne West, Executive Director of IHWF, said in the release. “However, as an organization we knew that more of a response was needed in order to fulfill our mission and the promise we made to our donors to use their generous funding in a meaningful way.

“Looking at the issue of medical transportation, we identified three key areas of need: development of a resource guide that clearly describes and defines the different types of transportation available to residents of Deer Isle-Stonington and can be used when providers or family members are helping a patient who doesn’t drive to arrange for rides; someone to sit down with patients and help them navigate the ride system, especially those dealing with complex, chronic illnesses such as cancer or kidney failure and struggling to find multiple rides to medical appointments; and working at local, state and national levels to obtain more funding for additional transportation services for our rural area as well as encouraging collaboration between local nonprofits to share ride resources and avoid duplication of effort.”

West added, “The transportation issue is not going away. Our population in Maine and here on this Island is aging. In addition, with heroin, opiate and other addiction concerns facing our neighbors, often the first thing to be taken in the criminal justice system is a driver’s license, making getting to and from appointments almost impossible, even when those appointments are necessary to achieve recovery. We live in a rural area, where walking to and from destinations or even taking public transportation is not usually feasible. This doesn’t mean that the problem is insurmountable—it just means that we have to get more creative.”

To this end, the IHWF Board of Directors has asked West to take on an additional role as Island Transportation Liaison. In this position, she will be using her time to develop and implement systems for identifying patients in need of medical transportation before their needs become acute, working with current transportation agencies to meet these needs, and collaborating with other local nonprofits and government agencies to increase transportation resources to Deer Isle-Stonington and better utilize and advertise the ones that are currently available.

“I am really grateful that the IHWF Board of Directors is so in tune and responsive to the health needs of this community,” West said. “I am looking forward to tackling this issue with energy, creativity, and, due to our generous donors, the funding necessary to make real change. It is my ultimate goal that the solutions we uncover and the processes and collaborations we develop can be used in other communities who are facing this issue as well.”

Anyone needing assistance determining what transportation systems are available and how to access them can call Anne West directly at 367-5851 for assistance. For more information about Island Health & Wellness Foundation’s programs, including its transportation initiative, or to inquire about joining its Board of Directors, contact West at IHWF1966@gmail.com">class="caps">IHWF1966@gmail.com or 367-5851.