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READY TO GO: Volunteers Cam Ronald, left, and Terry McMinn ready to head out on another St John Health Shuttle trip for locals.


Public transport and health services are bound to be key issues for Ōtaki residents as the 2019 local body elections loom. Although transport services are limited compared to other small communities in the lower North Island, there are other options. Ōtaki Today looks this issue at the health shuttle provided by St John volunteers.

Hira Royal needs to get to Levin and back twice a week to attend the Marion Kennedy Club in Levin run by Alzheimers Manawatū.

The day programme helps people who suffer memory loss and associated problems that go with dementia and alzheimers. Unable to do it herself, she relies on family to get her there.

However, the visits last five hours, from 10am to 3pm, so the options for the family are to stay and do some shopping in Levin, or return later in the day to pick her up.

To avoid the hassle, the family uses the St John shuttle service. It picks up Hira in Levin and delivers her back to her home at Ōtaki.

“It’s a fabulous service,” says Hira’s daughter, Kahu Coldstream. “Mum is having more and more difficulty remembering things, and we worry if she’s out on her own.

“Sometimes she wants to be dropped in town, but the shuttle makes sure she gets right back to us safely. We find it’s a really good value service that takes the pressure off the family.”

The shuttle also gives the family time to devote quality time to their father.

“We can play cards and rummy. It’s great down time for Dad, especially because we don’t have to pack up early to go and pick up Mum.”

Jimmy Anderson needs six-hour dialysis sessions three days a week in Palmerston North. Living an hour away in Ōtaki and not having a vehicle, Jimmy would have had to rely on others for his transport. So he uses the health shuttle.

“It would be really hard on my son to get me there and back,” he says. “The shuttle is great. It gets me out, I can have a good chat to the drivers and it gets me door to door.”

The shuttle service operates every week day to get Ōtaki people to medical appointments. It might be for a hospital visit, but it could also be to a medical centre, or ancillary service such as imaging, specialist assessment or treatment. And it doesn’t need to be out of town.

Shuttle driver Cam Ronald says the service provides transport for people who have no other options to get to health appointments.

“When the shuttle began in 2010, the missed appointment rates from Ōtaki for MidCentral District Health Board services were about 80 percent,” Cam says. “With the shuttle, we’ve reversed that rate, so now 80 percent of appointments are honoured.”

The door-to-door service operates at various times each day from Monday-Friday, usually to Levin or Palmerston North. Users can book through a phone messaging service, and it’s confirmed by a call back for travel arrangements and the pick-up time from homes or other designated locations.

Patients might be attending medical treatment, consultations with specialists, specialist dental care and treatment, eyesight and related disorders, renal dialysis, dementia or other age-related care.

The shuttle is staffed by 22 volunteer drivers and companions, who are all trained in first aid skills. It operates on donations from users and the community, through the local St John charity shop and from the health board when people are on long treatment programmes. If five or more visits are required in a six-month period, the DHB pays for the travel.

At present there are two shuttles, with only one having a rear wheelchair hoist. The other is due to be replaced later in the year.

Cam says it’s rewarding to be helping locals, and he urges anyone who has some spare time to join up.

“We need more volunteers, so if you’ve got some spare time one day a week from 8am to 4pm, we’d love to hear from you,” he says. “Full training and uniforms are provided.”

Shuttle gets locals to appointments



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