By Country Care Link
As featured in the 2019 Country Web Annual
‘It’s truly remarkable that we’ve been able to provide such a wonderful, much-needed service for the past 25 years for so many country people who face the uncertainty of sickness and the ever-increasing costs of travelling to Sydney for health care.’ Sr Jan O’Grady, Country Care Link Coordinator.
Open Support’s Country Care Link transport service celebrates its 25 Year Anniversary this year – an extraordinary achievement for a service which has relied totally on the goodwill of volunteer drivers throughout its history.
The service, which provides no-cost transport for country people who need to come to Sydney for medical appointments and treatment, officially began on 3 August 1994 (when Open Support was known as Sisters of Charity Outreach). It evolved out of an earlier initiative called Country Care, which began at the invitation of then-NSW Premier John Fahey in 1992, with hay deliveries to drought-stricken farmers by a team of intrepid Sisters!
The much-admired Sr Enid Doherty ran the early Country Care service, which included the TelePal call-in and chat service for isolated country people, before taking the reins of Country Care Link from 1994 through until 2005. She was followed by Sr Colleen Noonan, and then Sr Adele Cottrell-Dormer, before current coordinator, Sr Jan O’Grady, was appointed in 2010.
While early records don’t show exactly how many regional people Country Care Link has helped during its 25 years, the service has conducted over 9000 trips in the past five years; the number of indigenous clients has tripled; the number of over-65’s has nearly doubled; and the number of children has risen by a quarter.
Until very recently, volunteer office staff took bookings using a paperwork process and a computer database, coupled with multiple phone calls back and forth between drivers and clients, to ensure clients were picked up on time, at the right location, and were safely delivered to and from their destination.
However, last year saw Country Care Link’s biggest behind-the-scenes enhancement, when a booking system using Salesforce software (donated by supporter Salesforce) was installed.
‘Salesforce has been the biggest change to the way we do things, and thanks to Salesforce and Atlas Consulting (who assisted with the implementation), much of what we do is now fully automated,’ says Sr Jan. Now, when a booking is taken, auto generated emails and text messages connect, remind and inform drivers and clients right up until the minute a client gets into their vehicle.
Sr Jan is enormously proud that, 25 years on, Country Care Link continues to provide ‘country folk’, as she fondly refers to them, with access to health care.
‘We’re still going strong because there’s a real need out there by country folk, who must come to the city for medical services which are simply not available where they live. Our no-cost service reduces their stress financially and emotionally, by ensuring they can get to their treatment.
‘We’re also still here because we have such kind people who are happy to be volunteers and give back to the community.’
Sr Jan emphasises that the service is indebted to its volunteer drivers and support staff, as well as many supporters over the years, including the Macquarie Radio Network and Alan Jones, the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA), the Rural Women’s Network and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Her many trips to rural areas to meet with hospital social workers, to share how Country Care Link can support more families, has brought home to Sr Jan the challenge regional families face in getting to Sydney for vital health care services.
‘If we can help people who are having to do all that travelling by at least being here for them when they eventually get to Sydney – with a smiling, happy friendly face to greet them and take them safely to their hospital or accommodation for the night – then we’ve taken some of that stress away for them.’
A personal experience with Country Care Link
60-Plus Trips in 13 Years: Leonie’s ‘blessed and grateful’
‘I can’t speak highly enough of Country Care Link and its wonderful volunteer drivers. I would never have been able to get to all my many medical appointments in Sydney over the years without them, and I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me,’ says 79-year-old Leonie Calvi of Coffs Harbour.
Lung transplant recipient Leonie, who lives alone and lost both her sons recently, has been a regular client for over half of Country Care Link’s 25 Years. She’s used the service more than 60 times since one of our friendly volunteer drivers first collected her from Sydney airport to bring her to St Vincent’s Hospital 13 years ago.
‘In the early days, after my transplant, I had to come to Sydney every two or three weeks. These days, despite my recent kidney failure, thankfully it’s not quite so often. But I think I’ve had nearly every volunteer driver they’ve ever had working for Country Care Link at one time or the other.
‘They’re always there with a friendly smile, waiting for me when my plane comes in to take me where I need to go. I’ve even had drivers’ kindly waiting with a wheelchair for me, even though I don’t need one.’
Like many regional NSW residents, pensioner Leonie has only been able to afford to fly in and out of Sydney due to NSW Health’s Isolated Patients Travel & Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS) and Country Care Link.
‘Country Care Link has saved me so much money that I’ve never had.’
Ironically, Leonie still fondly recalls the one time, many years ago, when the service didn’t have a volunteer driver available to collect her.
‘But, one of the Sisters (of the then-named Sisters of Charity Outreach) jumped in a car and came and picked me up. I got such a surprise and I thought: Wow, my goodness me! But then, all their drivers have looked after me so well. I feel so blessed and I’m so grateful.’
Country Care Link
Country Care Link provides transport to regional NSW families, couples and individuals who are attending medical appointments and hospital stays. Transport is provided by trained volunteer drivers on arrival and/or departure between the airport, railway or bus station, and their medical appointment, hospital or accommodation. When booking transport, 48-hours’ notice is preferred. To book, call 1800 806 160 or 02 8382 6434, Monday to Friday, 9.30 am to 3.00 pm or email: email@example.com. Visit http://opensupport.org.au for more information.
Isolated Patients Travel & Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS)
A NSW Government scheme providing financial assistance towards travel and accommodation costs when a patient needs to travel long distances for treatment that is not available locally.
1800 362 253