Elsa Hagan has medical appointments out of town but can not drive herself there.
Until recently, she and many other Heathcote residents were forced to rely on family or friends to get to appointments or the pharmacy.
“Some people don’t have family members here. They might have moved up here after they retired, so the rest of their family are down in Melbourne,” she said.
Transport can be a big issue for those who cannot drive.
Heathcote Health CEO Dan Douglass said the problem has been so widespread that when his group researched why locals kept missing medical appointments they were consistently told people just could not travel to them.
Yet in recent months, volunteers organised by the Royal Flying Doctor Service have begun ferrying community members to appointments and pharmacies throughout the region.
The Heathcote Community Transport Service has made over 510 car or van trips so far, with organisers saying other small communities watching closely as they grapple with their own transport barriers.
The program helps those with health care, pension concession or Department of Veterans Affairs cards.
So many people are using the service that it is almost at capacity and organisers are considering adding a third vehicle to the fleet.
Pat Gill has used the service four times for specialist medical appointments in Bendigo.
“I’m 90 now and I drive around Heathcote. But I don’t go as far as Bendigo,” she said.
“I hurt my shoulder so I lost my confidence with driving.”
Mrs Gill praised the service, especially the volunteers who she said were fantastic.
Paul Biskupek has been a driver since the service launched. He volunteers once or twice week.
“Being retired, I have the time to commit to something like this and I think my wife is probably happy to get rid of me for the day,” he said.
The best bit is chatting to the clients, Mr Biskupek said
“I’ve only been in Heathcote for three years and I have driven people who have been here more than 60. They can tell me the history of the town, the pubs it used to have. They are a wealth of knowledge,” he said.
“You know you are helping them out. Some people live on country properties. If they are injured and they can’t drive they can be quite isolated.”
Combating isolation is high on the local health service’s agenda.
Mr Douglass wants to see more public transport options for people in Heathcote. He said that, combined with the Heathcote Community Transport service, could meet most of the challenges people face around transport isolation.
“It’s really around making sure people are connected,” Mr Douglass said.
“We know depression, anxiety and loneliness are all things that compromise people’s ability to live their best life.
“So on the one hand this is about medical transport, and on the other it is about helping address social isolation.”
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