After seeing frail and disabled residents trying to flag down city buses, Gale Capling decided that enough was enough.
Capling, a former bus driver, formed her business, the New Freedom Care-A-Van, in June 2011 in order to provide transportation to frail, disabled, and elderly citizens of Clinton County.
She took it upon herself to start selling jewelry to raise money so that she could jump start her business.
“I wanted to create a system that cared for aging people,” Capling said. “When I saw the frail and disabled trying to navigate to a bus, I thought: ‘There’s got to be a better way,’ she said. “I thought it was a poor way for America to treat aging people; expecting them to navigate by themselves is a travesty.”
The Care-A-Van service has about seven vans that are used daily. All of the vans are driven by volunteer drivers.
“Volunteers are people with the best heart,” Capling said.
The clerk for the Care-A-Van office, Joan Rudate, said: “Most of the drivers are retired. They’re all healthy and active, and just want something to do.”
The Care-A-Van riders must apply for the Care-A-Van service to ensure that they are qualified to utilize it. In order to qualify for the service, applicants have to be Clinton County residents, and have some type of handicap. Once the application is filled out, the applicant takes the form to his or her physician for revision. The application is then sent to the Care-A-Van office, where it is viewed for approval.
Once approved, the resident is able to begin making appointments to use the service. Passengers must call in to make their Care-A-Van appointment two weeks prior to when their doctor’s visit is.
The Care-A-Van service is a part of the Clinton County Transit System. It transports its passengers to their medical appointments, and uses what a “door-through-door” system, in which the drivers will go inside the passengers’ homes to help them gather all of the things that they’ll need for their appointments.
In addition to picking up passengers from their homes and transporting them to their medical appointments, the Care-A-Van’s drivers accompany passengers to the doctor’s office, takes passengers to the grocery store and to the pharmacy to pick up food and medicine, and will also take them out to a restaurant so that they can get a chance to socialize with others.
One-on-one transportation is offered to the passengers as well. With one-on-one transportation, there is only one passenger in the van at a time. This way, the passenger is able to be taken home as soon as he or she is finished with their appointment.
The service has been such a benefit to the elderly community. Current passengers have been known to spread the word about the Care-A-Van through word-of-mouth. Hence the increase in passengers the business has seen since it first began.
During the first month of business, the service only made 11 trips (a trip is considered as one full-round of service: picking the passenger up from home, taking them to their appointment, and dropping them back off at home). In a few months time, that number quadrupled.
In 2012, the Care-A-Van was making around 80 trips per month. Now, the service is approaching the 200 mark, and also receives about three to seven new applications a week.
Rudate also commented on the increase in the number of passengers.
“We [initially] had 104 appointments scheduled in April,” she said. “That increased up to 125. The number gets bigger every month.”
“We see about a 20 to 30 increase each quarter,” Capling said.
Capling said that she is pleased with the way the business is running, but she and her team are always tweaking the system to ensure that they accommodate everyone.
“The basic core is the same core,” she said. “It’s just growing.”
Capling said that she would like to one day replicate the service in every county and every state of the union.
Even with the success of the New Freedom Care-A-Van, transportation still serves as a problem for the elderly community.
Because Clinton County is a more rural area, doctor’s offices, grocery stores, and pharmacies are farther away from elderly residents’ homes, which ultimately makes things harder for them.
Dawn Benson, general manager of the Clinton Transit System, said: “Some seniors live far away from their resources. Some have to make 10 mile trips to the grocery store and medical services. As a result, they can’t stay in their homes because they are so far away from what they need.”
Capling said: “No one wants to go to a nursing homes today. If we can help [the elderly] stay in their homes for as long as they can, then they will be healthier. It’s called the quality of life.”
Services like the New Freedom Care-A-Van and the Clinton Transit System allow elders to live in their own homes, be independent, and help them to live longer, healthier lives. These services also allow the elders to feel more secure and welcome in the community.
“We’re a community that loves the people that are sometimes forgotten,” Capling said.