Establishing a transportation program to help people get to medical appointments is, in the eyes of Toby Harkins, RN, assistant director/director of nursing for the Harvey County Health Department, a very big deal.

"The impact this will make on Harvey County ... this will improve the quality of life for everyone," Harkins said Dec. 7 during a meeting of the Transporation Work Group of Healthy Harvey."

That group was tasked on Friday with the first real step in the creation of the program — figuring out where to go to recruit volunteers who will serve as drivers when the program actually launches. Just when rides will be offered, and who they will be offered too, is still a bit unclear.

There is more planning to do.

What is known is the program is inching forward, thanks to a $25,000 grant from The Kansas Health Foundation officially awarded last month.

The grant will allow for the hiring of a part-time coordinator who will recruit and manage a group of volunteer drivers. Those drivers will have access to an insurance program and a small mileage reimbursement for the use of their vehicles. They will undergo a screening and "rigorous background check," according to Robert Carlton, director of the Harvey County Department on Aging and chair of the work group.

Volunteers will go through a training program before driving for the program.

In other words, there is a lot of work to be done before the program can launch. The launch, planned for sometime in 2019, will first roll out to targeted populations with the assistance of still-to-be-determined organizations who serve those populations.

During the meeting Dec. 7 which included representatives of the Health Department, Newton Medical Center, Harvey County Administration, the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce and at-large community members, it was made clear that the intention is to start small and grow the program. 

"We will need drivers in every community," Carlton said.

Initially, the offering will be for planned medical appointments only, with riders screened for still-to-be-determined income qualifications. 

For about 18 months the workgroup has been meeting to assess the transportation needs of the community and look for ways to meet those needs.

"I don't know that we thought this would happen this fast," Carlton said. "People of this community who have needed transportation have needed it for a long time. To even get to the point today that we can announce that we have the grant ... the process can start."