Loss of local dialysis service leads to transportation challenges

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

On October 1st, DaVita Dialysis services ended their contract to offer dialysis services in Montevideo, meaning that those from the area that traveled to Montevideo for services must now travel further. Because of this, and a lack of drivers both volunteer and paid, Prairie Five RIDES has faced challenges with meeting all requests for rides, having to deny rides at times. Dialysis patients that traveled from Granite Falls, Dawson, Appleton, Milan, and within Montevideo now must be transported to Morris, Alexandria, Willmar, Redwood Falls, and Milbank for services.

“With Montevideo as a hub, it worked pretty good because a dialysis appointment is three and a half to four hours long. When it was in Montevideo we were able to do other rides in between times. Now, if we have to send a driver to Milbank, or Redwood Falls, they almost have to stay there because it doesn’t pay for them to drive back. Obviously, that means it’s not only affecting our dialysis riders, but some of our regular riders we would do rides for during dialysis times,” says Paul Coyour, Prairie Five RIDES Assistant Director.

Those rides were provided both by volunteer and paid drivers. “We have only six volunteer drivers throughout the five counties [that Prairie Five RIDES services],” says Coyour. “Because of tax purposes, we lost a lot of volunteer drivers. We do have a program now where volunteers would not get taxed on what they get reimbursed for their mileage which was a huge deterrent for a lot of volunteer drivers. We hope that will help.” From January 1st through August 31st, RIDES provided 1,169 rides to or from Montevideo dialysis, or 146 rides a month for dialysis alone.  “If we had some volunteers, that would definitely help other than obviously the ones that would need a handicap accessible vehicle which would be our vans or our bus. Like everyone, we are pretty limited on our paid drivers also. We’re always looking to hire drivers. We have a shortage of them, so this change has definitely had a big impact,” says Coyour. 

On Monday alone, Coyour says the shortage of drivers, and the change in where dialysis patients must travel to meant that Prairie Five RIDES had to deny ten rides in one day. “They weren’t dialysis rides but they were affected because if we’ve got a driver in Redwood Falls for four hours, they can’t do those additional rides.” Coyour says those who are thinking about volunteer driving or applying to be a paid driver with Prairie Five RIDES would be helping out members of their community with necessary medical needs. “It’s [dialysis] not something they can postpone or anything. It’s a three-day-a-week commitment that they have to go for this treatment. If anyone is interested in being a volunteer or a paid driver, we do have vehicles that can do these rides. We just don’t have drivers to put behind the wheel,” says Coyour.

Montevideo City Administrator Robert Wolfington says the City is looking into finding a new company to provide dialysis services in Montevideo. “We started looking at options once we knew DaVita was officially leaving.  We recognize this is an important service in the community and are continuing to explore ways to bring it back to Montevideo,” Wolfington says. 

Anyone interested in volunteer driving or applying to be a paid driver with Prairie Five RIDES can call 877-757-4337 or visit the website at prairiefive.org.