NWRTCC collaborations help lay foundation for funding potential volunteer driver program

Kittson County transit

At the Station Senior Center in Hallock, Minnesota, 22 community members this spring took a closer look at current and future non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) needs and concluded that aging Kittson County residents face increasing challenges finding rides for medical appointments.

The April 27 meeting was a notable step in the quest to garner grant funding for a volunteer driver program to address those challenges, said Lynnell S. Popowski, mobility manager for the Northwest Regional Development Commission. The Northwest Regional Transportation Coordinating Council (NWRTCC) hosted the meeting, with Amy Conrick, director of the National Center for Mobility Management (NCMM), facilitating.

The NWRTCC previously submitted a “ready-to-launch” grant application to the NCMM for funding a volunteer driver program. While NCMM chose not to fund the grant, it recognized the county’s need and offered the opportunity for technical assistance to complete the required steps that help strengthen a ready-to-launch grant application. “This meeting was one of the necessary steps for planning,” Popowski said.

The sparsely populated nature of Kittson County, where more than 4,000 Minnesotans live, makes transportation access more difficult. An aging population can also mean more trips to health care clinics.

Kittson County is designated by the U.S. Census Bureau as a frontier rural county, one of seven such counties in the state. People who live in frontier rural counties—with population densities of less than seven people per square mile—generally experience greater issues with transportation access than people in counties with denser populations and more transportation options.

During the meeting, Conrick presented four models of volunteer driver programs. Participants helped identify the program elements they thought would work best in Kittson County, focusing primarily on access to assisted transportation. They also took two surveys—one that looked at their health care transportation needs and another that asked about volunteer driver motivations and possible obstacles.

Most meeting participants said they needed non-emergency medical transportation every six months, and most also provided their own transportation for appointments. Some relied on family members, and all saw a need for NEMT services. They mentioned the desire to give back and help others as motivation to become a volunteer driver and cited weather, cost, and lack of flexibility as obstacles.

The surveys and discussion helped set the foundation for next steps, Popowski said. “A picture began to emerge of the type of volunteer driver program they wanted to meet their specific needs.”

Development staff from the Area Agency on Aging shared information about the application process for Title IIIB funding to pay for assisted transportation and offered follow-up actions to begin work on securing funding. Additional surveying to help bolster grant applications is also planned.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to fund an assisted transportation program provided by volunteer drivers in Kittson County in the near future,”  Popowski said.