The homelike aspects of your motorhome can be just what the doctor ordered for someone who needs transportation to or from a medical facility.
By George Myers, L2014S
There are people in our communities who need help to travel to or from a distant hospital or clinic when receiving specialized medical treatment. The limitations posed by their illnesses can make most traditional transportation modes impractical. Often, special ambulances are prohibitively expensive and not covered by health insurance. This is where our motorhomes give us the opportunity to provide these individuals comfort and assistance.
Several FMCA members have volunteered to use their motorhomes to supply transportation to people who urgently need it. They are doing this through Angel Bus, a nonprofit organization that coordinates compassionate, nonemergency ground transportation for individuals in need. During special “missions,” or trips, a volunteer motorhome owner transports someone who has been identified by medical staff as needing the facilities the motorhome can provide and as being able to travel in that manner without aggravating his or her condition.
Angel Bus was formed in May 2000 by FMCA member Bill Connor. Mr. Connor came up with the idea after his son required routine travel to receive treatment at a medical center that was hours away from home, and the family’s bus conversion made the trip more comfortable for all involved. The volunteer organization quickly spread from Mr. Connor’s home in Minnesota to encompass volunteers from all around the United States.
Sadly, Mr. Connor’s son died in 2004, and Mr. Connor himself passed away in 2008. His wife, Nola, turned the Angel Bus program over to Mercy Medical Airlift, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in 2009. Mercy Medical Airlift is a national nonprofit corporation that has been in operation for more than 30 years. These folks run Angel Flight, the air transport equivalent of Angel Bus.
Through Angel Bus, several FMCA members have volunteered to lend the use of their motorhome to provide that transportation to people who urgently need it. You, too, can become an angel to someone in need by joining the rest of us as an Angel Bus volunteer.
How To Help
If you are willing to assist someone needing transportation for medical treatment, the first step is to register as an Angel Bus volunteer. After your information has been processed and you are accepted as a volunteer, you will be contacted when someone needs help in your area. Mercy Medical Airlift will have worked with the passenger’s current doctors or the hospital’s patient’s advocate to ensure that the mission is needed and that it will not aggravate his or her condition. You are free to accept or reject a mission for any reason.
All volunteers receive a copy of the “Volunteer Driver Handbook,” which spells out everything in detail so that they will know what they are getting into before making any commitment. The handbook is available online at www.angel-bus.org.
Most missions will transport patients between their home and a distant medical center (such as the Cleveland Clinic or the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston). Missions may also be arranged in cooperation with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to take a terminally ill child to some adventure of his or her dreams, such as Walt Disney World. Missions to transport wounded veterans are another possibility.
Angel Bus and Angel Flight volunteers will tell you there is no reward in life that can compare with the satisfaction they received from helping someone who was so truly in need. The things that we take for granted in our motorhomes can make it possible to comfortably move someone whose physical limitations would make travel by any other mode a nightmare. A couch or bed can give them a place to ride while lying down or sitting beside a parent or loved one. A refrigerator might be crucial to carry medicine or special foods. Your motorhome’s 120-volt AC power might be needed to run medical equipment en route. And your coach’s storage space, bays, and towed car can help to carry items patients have accumulated after a long hospital stay.
Angel Bus passengers usually are accompanied by an assistant (probably a spouse or family member) who helps the patient en route. As an Angel Bus volunteer, you would be responsible only for providing the transportation, not giving medical help or paying any of their expenses for food or motels. When you are offered a mission, the specifics will be fully explained and you can either accept or reject the mission for any reason. Missions usually will be less than one day in length (one way).
Sometimes an Angel Bus mission will require several volunteer drivers who work in a relay fashion. One passenger, Robert, a young man who lived in Nebraska, learned that he needed to go to the Johns Hopkins medical complex in Baltimore, Maryland, for specialized treatment that was available only there. Because of his condition, travel by car or airline was not a reasonable option. This Angel Bus mission required four separate drivers and motorhomes, but because of good planning, the mission went smoothly, and it did not tax any one volunteer too much.
Motorhome owners Les and Pam Davidson of Redlands, California, had a mission that is more typical. They picked up a child and his mother at the UCLA Medical Center and took them to their home in Ontario, California, after the boy’s treatment. This meant that the child was able to spend Christmas at home with his family.
Mercy Medical Airlift is the ideal organization to run Angel Bus. It already has the contacts in the medical community and the office staff to identify those in need, plan the specific missions, contact the volunteers, monitor the progress, and help out if problems develop. The folks at Mercy Medical Airlift conduct about 10,000 air missions each year; most needs are filled with donated frequent flyer miles and donated commercial airline tickets.
For some people, commercial airline travel is not an option because of their medical problems or their location. The volunteer pilots of Angel Flight provide about 2,000 flights each year for those folks. However, many other people cannot be transported by air because of their physical limitations or limited resources. That is where we, as Angel Bus volunteers, come in. Motorhome owners are all over the country, and we can pick people up almost anywhere they live and tenderly carry them right up to the door of the hospital.
A New Chapter
The people at Mercy Medical Airlift have years of experience working with volunteer pilots, but they are not familiar with the motorhome community. I am part of a small group of FMCA members who have volunteered to help recruit fellow motorhome owners to Angel Bus. We have been calling ourselves the Angel Bus Support Group, but we are in the process of formalizing our efforts by forming the Angel Bus FMCA chapter. At the time of this writing, plans were in place for us to hold a chapter formation meeting at FMCA’s 83rd International Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 22, 2010. Although individual members support Angel Bus, the chapter actually will be part of FMCA, not Angel Bus.
The chapter will function like other FMCA chapters, with a newsletter and some rallies, most likely held in conjunction with international conventions. In addition to those normal chapter activities, we will make a special effort to let other FMCA members know about Angel Bus and our chapter; share our experiences and what we learned to help others on their missions; and provide material that members can take back to their home chapters to help recruit more Angel Bus volunteers.
If you would like to be part of our new Angel Bus chapter, please contact me, George Myers, at [email protected]; (937) 426-9850 (home), or (937) 272-3493 (cell). You do not need to be an Angel Bus volunteer to join the chapter.
It doesn’t take a miracle to get people to the medical care they need, but it does require a few angels. With your help, Angel Bus can provide the shortest distance between home and hope!
To obtain a volunteer application form or simply obtain more information about Angel Bus, visit the Web site below, or contact:
4620 Haygood Road, Suite 1
Virginia Beach, VA 23455
E-mail: [email protected]
Because Angel Bus is a 501(c)(3) organization, all of our expenses are tax-deductible.
Angel Bus was first mentioned in Family Motor Coaching in May 2002 (page 104); read the article online at FMCA.com.