Health Van to end Friday after 20 years

Nov 28, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

After 20 years in service, the free "Health Van" program that transports local cancer patients to radiation treatments is shutting down Friday.

"We couldn't keep up anymore with the cost," said Rhonda Locker, executive director for Help for Health Hospice and 4 Horses Home Services. "We just haven't been able to get the funding."

In a letter this week, she attributed the loss to the recent downturn in Wyoming's economy, which has negatively impacted the flow of donations that have supported the service in the past.

Funder lost

The main funder of the program, Encana, also pulled out recently after moving away from the area.

For two years, Locker said, Encana provided all of the fuel for the Health Van - a donation of about $17,000 per year.

Rocky Mountain Oncology also has been unable to help raise money for the van "for years," she added.

Further strain came with the loss of a local natural gas fuel station, requiring $7,000 to convert to propane, Locker continued.

"We didn't ... receive any help for that," she said. "And the next thing we know we're trying to figure out how to get propane."

There was a chance to receive a grant that would have sustained the transportation service for another four months, but Locker said that funding required a matching contribution that would have taken money away from the local hospice program.

In the end, she said her organization had to prioritize its allocations.

"This is most unfortunate," she said in her letter. "May all who were at any time a part of donating to our Health Van be blessed and honored for all the benefits and friendships which transpired on these difficult trips."

Thousands served

The Health Van, which has been in operation since April 1997, was one of the first services Help for Health initiated, Locker said. Since then, she estimated, the program has assisted more than 17,000 people going through cancer treatments, transporting them to Rocky Mountain Oncology in Casper for 18 years, then for the past two years to the new sister clinic in Lander, with pick-ups in Shoshoni, Campbell's Corner, Riverton and Hudson.

She offered a "shout out" to those who have driven the Heath Van over the past two decades.

"Our wonderful van drivers over the years ... became the friends and support to many of the riders when they didn't feel well, were scared or just plain mad that cancer was now a part of their lives," Locker wrote.

"The van drivers' dedication to their calling was what kept the van rolling."

$3,500a month

This service was run solely using donations, grants and additional funding provided by Help for Health, Locker said, and it would take about $3,500 per month to restore the program.

"We would consider it," she said. "I think that's always an opening."

Alternatively, she said, the current van could be repurposed to serve another community need. Locker said the program is on its fifth van, which already has logged more than 150,000 miles of travel.

"But it can go up to 300,000," she said. "It's a great van. It holds 14 people. We made it special for our patients."

'Creeping along'

Those patients likely already knew the transportation service was in jeopardy, she said, but this week marks the first time she has had to officially make the "big announcement" that the Health Van was closing.

"We got sustained until September, and we've just been creeping along, (but the funding) is gone now," she said, adding, "This has been heart wrenching."

Locker thanked the community members and local businesses that have supported the program in the past, including Mary Margaret Stockton, Heather Christensen, Mary Neil, Joy Buck and Tim Payne, who "saw a need" decades ago and developed the service.

She also pointed to three local companies that have "been by our side from the beginning:" Riverton Tire and Oil, which provided new tires every year; Bill's Quality Auto Glass of Riverton, which provided new windshields as needed; and Expressway Lube of Lander, which housed the van.

"We are very thankful to all the community members that have worked hard to support the program for so many years," Locker said.

Help for Health and 4 Horses are nonprofit, community based hospice and home care programs in Fremont County. Help for Health also runs the Tough Enough to Help Cancer Fund, which assists cancer patients with household bills, travel costs and more, using only donations.

For more information call 856-1206.

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