Volunteer driver fears clients will miss out under new service provider

Yass Valley volunteer driver of twelve years Len McGuigan wonders if paid drivers would provide the same level of care. Photo: Dan Gold, generic
Yass Valley volunteer driver of twelve years Len McGuigan wonders if paid drivers would provide the same level of care. Photo: Dan Gold, generic

More often than not, medical appointments don't go to plan, the doctor is running late or the hospital appointment overruns.

Volunteer driver of twelve years, Len McGuigan, wonders if a paid driver would wait if their client's appointment ran for longer than anticipated or take care of a client's dog in the event of an unplanned overnight hospital stay.

Going beyond what's expected is the nature of the job for Yass Valley's volunteer drivers, Mr McGuigan said.

Yass Valley's volunteer drivers provided 3558 one-way trips to medical appointments in Canberra, Goulburn and Yass, according to a Yass Valley Council report.

However, the council's decision to withdraw from community services would make volunteer drivers redundant from March 2020.

Mr McGuigan said he received a letter from the council saying he would no longer be needed.

The council plans to transfer the service to a private provider but general manager Chris Berry said it was "too early to say which service model other providers would use".

"We'll only know this when an expression of interest is lodged," Mr Berry said.

Mr McGuigan's wife Pat often travels with him to ensure female clients feel comfortable and to help with parking in busy Canberra hospital car parks.

"Elderly ladies may be incontinent and won't want to speak to a man about it. Or if they get a bad result, by the time we've got them home, we usually have them talking and laughing. We operate as a team," Mr McGuigan said.

"Also, if we can't find parking, one of us will go in with the patient while the other one keeps looking."

Mr and Mrs McGuigan have many stories of going above and beyond for clients, calling relatives in times of need or taking clients for a walk or to lunch to pass the time.

"About three years ago, a client went into hospital to have her pacemaker checked. We had to be at the hospital at 7am and she was meant to come home that afternoon, but later on, the hospital said she wasn't going home that day. So we had to come back and find her neighbour to get the key to look after the dog. We then found her daughter to update her," Mr McGuigan said.

More recently, Mr McGuigan was in Canberra with two clients and one was told she had to stay in hospital because her blood pressure was fluctuating.

"We (Mr McGuigan and the other client) waited and waited, making small talk. It was lunchtime and our daughter lives in Canberra, so I decided to take her up there. We had lunch, I showed her around the garden and at about 4pm the hospital rang to say the other client was ready," Mr McGuigan said.

Mr McGugan said he was concerned a paid driver wouldn't be able to provide the same level of care as the volunteer drivers.

"If they put everyone on a bus, they can't keep everyone waiting. Sometimes we get back at 7pm or 8pm at night," he said.

"I'm 80 next year and will need that service soon."

Mr and Mrs McGuigan began volunteering when they retired and Mr McGuigan said he will be sad to stop driving next year.

"We know we're helping people. As soon as we retired we were told to find something to do. We travelled for a bit and then we found out about this. We can still drive. In fact, I think we're professional volunteers (laughs)! People can never find us because we're never home," Mr McGuigan said.

Another volunteer driver, who wished not to be named to protect his role, said he had three female clients worried about the cost of the service if privatised.

The main reason the council decided to withdraw from community services was cost, with the council estimating a deficit of $84,719 for running the services or $243,719 if overheads were factored in.

"One of them thought the council's role was to provide services to the community and not just make a profit," he said.

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