Grant funds shuttle from Mason City to UIHC


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Patients in Northern Iowa who are unable to drive will soon have a more convenient way to travel to Iowa City for medical treatment.

An Iowa Transportation Commission grant has allowed the state's Region 2 Transit services to establish a $55,000 bus program between Mason City and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Officials said they chose Mason City because it's along the way between major cities St. Paul, Minn., and St. Louis, Mo.

"We've had a long-standing concern for north Iowan communities," said Jennifer Kammeyer, the chief professional officer of United Way of North-Central Iowa. "It's not safe for some of the elderly or disabled community to drive."

The program was designed to allow patients a round-trip to and from the hospitals in a single day, rather than an intercity bus that would force them to stay near the hospital overnight.

Three reservations have been made for the "Saints Shuttle" bus, which will begin service Feb. 1.

"It's more convenient for them," Region 2 Transit Administrator Kevin Kramer said. "They can go down and take care of their business and come back the same day."

The New Freedom program and the United Way of North Central Iowa funded the grant. Kammeyer said program officials plan to add stops at other cities on the way if the current route gets enough support.

The UIHC is unique compared with other academic medical centers by drawing patients from the region while not being in a major urban location, said UI spokesman Tom Moore.

"[The Saints Shuttle] reflects the recognition of the outstanding health care that's provided to our patients," he said. "That our patients are willing to travel such distances to receive that excellent care."

Kammeyer said the shuttle will require at least six passengers per day — at $20 per ticket — in order to be financially viable. However, she expects interest in the shuttle to increase as people become more familiar with the service.

"We seek to improve access to health care," she said. "Vulnerable individuals and families including elderly, disabled, or low income, often need access to better health-care facilities but don't have the resources needed, whether it be a car, license or gas money."

The bus will leave Mason City, Iowa at 6 a.m. in order to ensure patient arrival at UIHC before their 10 a.m. appointments. The bus will leave Iowa City to return to Mason City no later than 4:30 p.m.

The United Way in North Central Iowa hopes to expand its transportation services to give more people access to the new Saints Shuttle, Kammeyer said.

"We will begin working with communities along the avenue that are experiencing this need," she said. "And we hope to be able to pick people up from places along the avenue other than Mason City."

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