Ready to launch: Red Cross shuttle will serve Walla Walla patients and guests

Navigating the parking lot at Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Administration Medical Center soon will be easier thanks to a free shuttle providing rides for visitors to and from their vehicles.

The shuttle, donated by the American Red Cross, has been ready for service since December 2018, with the concept underway since late spring 2018, according to Moira Neal, Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces Regional Program Specialist. 

“It’s a tricky maze of a parking lot,” Neal said of the Medical Center, adding that the Ford Escape can hold up to four passengers. The Escape doesn’t have a wheelchair lift, but can hold a wheelchair, she said.

The goal, she said, is to offer the service during the Center’s normal business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and to any visitor who wants to be escorted to and from their car.  

“We are excited for the shuttle service that the Red Cross will be offering our Veterans,” said Christopher R. Bjornberg, VA Medical Center Director.

Bjornberg goes on to explain, “This is important to us because of all of the construction that we will have going on over the next number of years. This construction has the potential to make it more difficult to find parking close to the entrance. Not to mention the issues with the elements in the winter months. We are grateful for the Red Cross and their willingness to provide this service to our Veterans, and I know our Veterans who use this service will also be grateful.”

Before the program can formally launch, volunteer drivers must navigate both the VA’s and Red Cross requirements. The VA requires drivers to pass various tests, including a physical, she said, while Red Cross volunteers must submit an application, which is then screened.

Volunteer Dixie Ferguson said she’s been helping onboard the drivers, including nine who had their first meeting in mid-August, and expects more in the coming weeks. She said a couple of them are already VA volunteers, and just needed to fill out an Red Cross application. 

Once the volunteer crew is vetted and certified, the shuttle program should be cleared for take-off. The Red Cross and VA Medical Center look forward to announcing rides are finally available – very soon.

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