Northeast Georgia Medical Center needs more volunteers to shuttle passengers from the main campus parking lot to the hospital.
Lynne Allen, director of volunteer services, said since the free shuttle was first offered in June 2005, the eight-passenger golf cart has transported more than 101,000 people. Patients and visitors can be picked up anywhere on campus and dropped off at the front door. They can also get rides back to their cars.
But the service depends on volunteer drivers, who are in short supply. The program lost one of its biggest supporters when dedicated volunteer Chuck Frissell died Oct. 26.
"He really was a cheerleader for the service," Allen said. "He took it upon himself to be responsible for maintaining the shuttle. Chuck also was driving on Saturdays, and since his death, it’s been hard to provide the service on weekends."
Volunteers typically work one or two days a week, Monday through Friday, choosing either the 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. or 12:30-4:30 p.m. shift. But with only about a dozen drivers right now, some are having to take extra shifts.
Allen said several volunteers recently had to quit driving the shuttle due to health issues. She worries that if she doesn’t get more people, they may have to cut back on the number of hours the service is available.
"The courtesy shuttle is one of the best customer-service initiatives the Medical Center Auxiliary has ever started," she said. "Many people who come here aren’t able to walk very far, and the shuttle keeps them from having to walk long distances."
There’s been a shortage of parking space on the main campus for years. The hospital is building a new parking deck, but it won’t open until early 2009, when the North Patient Tower is completed. Also, ongoing construction has eaten up much of the parking space that was once available, making it almost impossible for people to park close to the hospital entrance.
Volunteer Bill Walker, who has been driving the shuttle almost every Tuesday since February, said he finds the work rewarding.
"It’s an opportunity to help a lot of folks, and you feel like you’re doing something useful," he said. "People really seem to appreciate it, especially in bad weather. Some have even tried to tip us, but of course we have to refuse."
Walker, who moved to Gainesville a year ago, previously volunteered at a hospital in Atlanta.
"I was sitting at an information desk, giving people directions," he said. "That was all right. But I enjoy being outside. It’s much more interesting."
Allen said the cart is fitted with side panels and even has a heater, so drivers aren’t usually exposed to the elements.
"The majority of our shuttle drivers are male, but we welcome any ladies who are interested," she said.
The auxiliary currently has 430 active volunteers, about 100 of whom are men. Volunteers donated a total of 55,000 hours of service this year.
But Allen said she can’t simply fill the shuttle vacancies by pulling volunteers from other areas of the hospital.
"There are many opportunities to volunteer, and all the jobs are equally important," she said. "We match people with whatever suits them best."
To volunteer in any capacity, the applicant must undergo an interview, background check, and four-hour orientation. Then they train with an experienced volunteer in the field they’re interested in.
To become a shuttle driver, a volunteer must be at least 18 years old and must agree to a review of their motor vehicle record. Minor traffic violations are allowed, but a conviction for DUI or other serious offenses would be a deal-breaker. Applicants also need a statement from their physician saying they are physically capable of driving.
Allen said the auxiliary plans to continue the shuttle service even after the North Patient Tower opens.
"With the medical center’s growth, it’s obvious that we’re going to need additional volunteers in all areas," she said.