Thursday was a red-letter day, one that Robert Carlton had circled on his calendar a few weeks ago as the director of the Harvey County Department on Aging has been working on solve the puzzle of developing affordable transportation available to county residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

July 27 was a meeting, one he thought was important, with representatives from dozens of organizations across the county that are affected by transportation issues. 

“I have met with a lot of the folks in this room, and the stories we have heard … There are a lot of people with a lot of knowledge about the issues of transportation in Harvey County,” Carlton said. “We have been working for years on this, and they have been working in silos. For the first time we are together and the silos are going to change.”

Thursday Carlton had a survey distributed to be filled out by the dozens of people in the room. This was the next step of creating a plan — part of a Community Health Improvement Plan created by Newton Medical Center, the Harvey County Health Department, Newton Fire/EMS, Health Ministries and Prairie View.

Several months of meetings and data collection led to the identification of three areas of need — transportation access to care services and food; improved well being/mental health/behavioral health; and preventing and managing chronic disease while reducing obesity.

All three of those identified areas call for action.

“We have three years to work on this,” said Lynette Redington, director of the Harvey County Health Department. “The word I have used is realistic. We have to be realistic about what we can do.”

There were no solutions given during the Thursday meeting, it was, instead, a time to get face-to-face with community organizations and start working on identifying the gaps in the transportation system.

“We could have mailed out a survey and hoped to get 20 percent of them back,” Carlton said. “But that is not good enough. It has to be 100 percent. If we do not answer the question, or determine the true need, then we would put together a transportation program that is not going to work.”

The survey will be sent out to more than 100 different organizations across Harvey County to collect data on needs. It asked about issues for both clients and employees, and why the need is present. It also asked how organization s are dealing with a lack of available transporation, and when those issues arise the most.

This meeting came on the heels of a community meeting called FEAST, which looked at food availablity and the barriers to food availablity in the community. Transporation was identified as one of the top three needs identified by that group just one week ago.

“History will tell us what we did with this opportunity,” Carlton said.