Program offers rides to cancer patients to, from treatment
NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Robert Boatner has some radiation treatment left to go. The therapy he was prescribed to treat his prostate cancer requires him to travel from his home in New Orleans East to Touro Hospital, Monday through Friday, for a total of 40 days.
If he were to miss a single day of treatment, he would have to start the process over again.
Getting a ride to the hospital every day could have been problematic for Boatner, 71, who has also suffered from a stroke and is medically not allowed to drive.
His insurance company covered up to 20 rides to the hospital. Fortunately, Boatner was quickly connected to the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery Program, a free ride service for cancer patients, to cover the remaining trips needed for his radiation treatment.
For many cancer patients, getting to and from treatment can be one of the biggest barriers to successfully fighting the disease.
The ACS conducted a national survey of hospital social workers who reported that about 125,000 cancer patients require transportation services each year to keep up to date with their treatment appointments.
To address the need, the organization launched the Road to Recovery Volunteer Program to recruit drivers able to provide rides to and from patients’ cancer-related medical appointments. They have recruited 24 volunteer drivers so far in the New Orleans area, including Sandra Waguespack, a retired nurse who took Boatner to his radiation appointment on Oct. 9.
Waguespack started volunteering earlier this year, drawn to the opportunity as a way to reconnect with the healthcare world. Boatner’s ride to Touro was her 125th ride this year.
As she pulled up to Touro she brought a walker from the trunk of her car to help Boatner walk into his appointment. Radiation treatment usually only takes about 15 minutes, not counting the waiting time to be seen, she explained.
Radiation treatment can take anywhere from six to eight weeks to complete, requiring nearly daily trips to the doctor. Patients might not be able to rely on family members to drive them daily, and the costs can pile up for those who have long distances to travel, she explained.
“There’s a huge need in New Orleans because cancer is so prevalent here. We just don’t have enough drivers,” she said. On the ride to Touro she noted how that day there were four people waiting to see if they could get a ride through the service to their medical appointments that day.
To mitigate the problem, Touro Infirmary, University Medical Center, and Ochsner Cancer Center were each awarded a $5,000 grant for a year to cover transportation expenses for cancer patients who cannot get a driver through the Road for Recovery Program.
Lexie Grush, the program manager of mission delivery for the American Cancer Society said the program in New Orleans increased from 14 drivers to 24 drivers this year, but they are looking to continue adding to that core group of volunteers.
She said that early next year the ACS is also going to partner with a local transportation vendor to increase their capacity.
“You can have the best treatment in the world, but that won’t matter if you have no way to get there,” Grush said.