The American Cancer Society is seeking more volunteer drivers for its Road to Recovery program to ensure that those suffering from cancer and in need of transportation get the health care they need.
"All of these people, the people we deal with, are exclusively cancer patients," said Gerald Merz, a volunteer driver for the program. "They schedule medical treatments and do not have transportation to get there on their own. So they call the office and they try to line up a chauffeur."
Merz has been volunteering for the program since it began locally about a year ago.
The cancer society is now looking to expand its fleet of volunteer drivers, said Summer Garrison, the senior community manager for the cancer society's South Atlantic Division.
"There's always a need for transportation whether they are dealing with cancer or anything else. For anyone trying to get access to health care, transportation is important," Garrison said. "We would like to get some volunteers in Columbia County and in Harlem specifically. Harlem is a little further out there. We definitely want to expand (the program)."
A local training class for volunteer drivers is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 13. The one-hour training session will include filling out paperwork and the procedure for drivers. Requests for transportation are made through the cancer society office before being passed on to a driver such as Merz. Shortly before the scheduled appointment or treatment, the driver will call the patient and confirm the time, date and directions, Garrison said.
Merz said some weeks he might not have any transportation requests, while other weeks he could be taking the same patient to five consecutive days of radiation treatments.
"In the six months, I think I had maybe four or five patients, but a couple of dozen trips," said Merz, a retired Savannah River Site nuclear engineer. "They really do appreciate it."
Garrison said from Sept. 1 through May 31, the cancer society's drivers made 58 trips through Road to Recovery. Most of the trips have been for Richmond County residents, but Garrison said she'd like to see the program expand in Richmond and Columbia counties.
Volunteers use their own vehicles and are reimbursed for mileage and must have a clean driving record and criminal history. They can donate as much or little time as they would like.
"That's the one good thing about this program, it is whenever they can," Garrison said. "It is really based on (a volunteer's) availability."
Merz said he has "six Saturdays a week," despite four children and nine grandchildren and was happy to be able to help someone when he saw a flyer for the program at his church last summer. He just tries to "have a smiley face" and keep patients positive.
But Merz does get something from his involvement in the program.
"Satisfaction," he said.
Garrison said anyone interested in becoming a Road to Recovery driver should call her at (706) 731-9900 or 1 (866) 227-0904 to reserve a space in the training class.
Patients in need of transportation should call the cancer society at (800) ACS-2345.
Garrison said the cancer society has a program for people who have transportation to appointments and treatments but can't afford gas.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.