Flying Doctor Community Transport: for the community, driven by the community

  • Josiah Park
    Josiah Park
  • Rochester Community Transport team in front of illustrated grain silos with transport vehicles
    Rochester Community Transport team

A community-led transport program delivered by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Victoria is fulfilling a need in ten rural areas by partnering with health services to connect vulnerable members of the community to essential medical and social appointments.

Flying Doctor Community Transport was established in 2018 under the premise that, accessible, safe and reliable transport options can have a significant influence in reducing missed health appointments.

From an operational perspective, the program removes financial and geographical barriers; driving eligible clients to and from appointments, safely, comfortably, and free of charge.

The program is underpinned by a fleet of vehicles, a sophisticated booking system and a passionate network of local volunteer drivers, partners, and coordinators who live in the very communities they are servicing, which, in the past eighteen months, has expanded from Heathcote and Rochester to include an additional eight sites across the state.

Josiah Park is the site coordinator for Rochester and Heathcote. He says the enduring success of the program is in its operational ability to deliver a bespoke service to each location.

“Because it's grassroots, because it's safe. It's flexible, it's personal. I think that undoubtedly leads to a healthier community, and certainly a more cohesive and more inclusive community as well,” says Josiah.

“It has a remarkable impact on people's lives. I can't stress that enough. It’s so tangible for the clients because they go from not knowing how they might get to an appointment, to being picked up by a friendly face in a RFDS shirt, often by someone they already may know in their community, and they get to travel in comfort to an appointment and be brought home.”

The program’s flexibility to respond to external challenges was apparent when, in October 2022, the community of Rochester – in the state’s north - was severely impacted by heavy rain and flood events.

The effects of the natural disaster were widespread. Homes and properties were damaged, community members - including volunteers of the program – were displaced, and, as Josiah recalls, the operational hub, located within program partner Rochester and Elmore District Health Service (REDHS), did not escape the devastation.

Flying Doctor Community Transport, with the support of REDHS and volunteers from Rochester and Heathcote, ensured all community members could receive continuity of care, including those who had to move. All while operating out of a temporary office. One they still reside in currently.

“An elderly client had to relocate to aged care in Tongala, who, up until the 2022 floods, was living at home in Rochester,” explains Josiah. “Almost overnight, he was out of the home and will likely never be able to return to Rochester.”

“Flying Doctor Community Transport plays a really unique role in that gentleman's life now picking him up in Tongala and taking him to and from his medical appointments in Rochester.”

In a recent survey, 97% of clients said that Community Transport has made it easier for them to access health care or social appointments, while 91% of clients said they experienced less financial stress as a result of the service.

“It's allowing people living in rural communities to get the care they need in good time, which may give them better health outcomes in the future,’ says Josiah.

“We've proven already that in Rochester, while the program was majorly impacted, the volunteers, many of their lives also majorly impacted, we were able to continue the program and see it bounce back.”

For more information, please visit < Community Transport | Royal Flying Doctor Service>

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