Cahaba looks to add buses

Published 10:24pm Thursday, July 31, 2014

With vehicle mileage increasing every day, the Cahaba Mental Health Center is worried about the future of a program that serves hundreds of its patients. 

The mental health center is looking to replace six of its buses with federal grant funding.

Cahaba director Lafon Barlow said successful receipt of the buses would help the center continue with business as usual.

An unsuccessful application could force Cahaba to run its high-mileage vehicles longer than planned.

“My understanding is that the transportation money will likely go to the larger areas and cities,” Barlow said. “Without us getting the grant vans, it’s detrimental because of the large population we serve without transportation. Sometimes our people can get transportation, but are charged an arm and a leg; they charge so much money that we worry about people being exploited.”

David White, who runs the West Central Alabama Rehabilitation Center on Citizens Parkway, said the reasoning for directing grant funding to metro areas could be that larger populations would be served.

“In sending these vehicles to larger, metro areas, they know it will serve more people because of a larger population density,” White said. “You can catch more numbers in the larger areas, but when you’ve got a lower population density, like Dallas, Perry and Wilcox counties, you need the service more. People can’t get everything they need in a ten-mile radius.”

He said grant funding is critical when considering the large cost of replacement. White estimated one van could run anywhere from $35,000 to $40,000, making the cost of six new buses more than $200,000. The grant covers 80 percent of the vehicles cost.

The mental health facility has about 55 total vehicles — vans, buses and cars — used to traverse Cahaba’s large, rural service area — Dallas, Perry and Wilcox counties. Barlow said the transportation program brings patients to virtually any and every kind of service.

With dozens of miles added on each trip, perhaps 100 miles in a day, Barlow said older vehicles could break down, potentially stranding the patients and drivers in rural areas.

“There are some vehicles that I’ve said we can only use around town because I’m scared to send you to a doctor’s appointment or scared to send you to Montgomery,” she said. “Out in the remote, rural areas where we have phone towers that don’t always work, you still have to walk to get a signal or get help. We need the dependable vehicles.”

Barlow isn’t the only one who sees the value in providing reliable transportation services for the 4,000 patients served by the mental health center. Cahaba patients like Billy Barrett said he’s been able to travel to new cities because of the health center’s transportation.

“We can get around town in one day,” Barrett said. “We always go to our groups and have fun in the vans. We always go to Troy, to Mobile and go to places we’ve never seen before.”

Barlow said she wouldn’t know whether the grant funding is awarded for about a year, but is hopeful that Cahaba produces a successful application.


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