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County wants to use more volunteers

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

    The Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, May 4, featured two major steps towards bringing back previously popular programs that allowed volunteers to drive mobility-challenged county residents to medical appointments.

    Risk Manager Shawn Montgomery told the supervisors she was working with the human resources department to create an organized and defensible program for supporting the use of volunteers in county departments.

    Montgomery said there were more volunteers working for county departments than she had been aware of.

    “Volunteers are supposed to be treated in essence like a county employee. They have to fall under workman’s comp by law and they’re supposed to show they’re a citizen and all that kind of stuff.”

    She and Human Resources Director Gayla Trumbo had been working on developing some forms and a process to officially enroll volunteers into authorized agreements with county departments and programs.

    The risk manager said there was a balance that had to be struck between having a formal policy and not making it so onerous that it drives people away.

    BOS Chairwoman and Chester Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said it seemed ironic the board had been advised by its previous insurance provider to not use volunteers and took efforts to avoid using them in some areas, “and then you find out we have already been doing it anyway.”

    Supervisor Robert Meacher added that this is an important time politically for the battle to maintain the right for government agencies to use volunteers. “Every now and then, as much as I am a Democrat, labor unions try to get involved in this.

    “A lot of times the firefighters associations or other political means try to get the Division of Labor Standards, or whatever it is at the state, to nail nonprofits and other organizations for using volunteers, so we need to be vigilant.”

    “The reason I know about it is a lot of watershed programs use volunteers on weekends and beaches, state parks, for clean-ups, and they were all hit with a bill by the state to pay these people prevailing rates.”

    “So we got an exemption and that sunsets this year.

    “So someone’s obviously going to carry a piece of legislation to reinstate it and one to continue the exemptions, so we just need to track that.”

    The second half of the medical transport puzzle came together when Public Health Agency Director Mimi Hall appeared before the board asking to use approximately $7,000 of contingency funds from the Senior Nutrition program to match $36,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy a wheelchair accessible van that didn’t require a special license to drive.

    She added the bus had capacity for two large wheelchairs at once.

    She said the vehicle could be used specifically for transporting seniors to events relating to the program, but that it would also be available for other departments to use for similar purposes when it wasn’t being used for its primary function.

    Thrall said she thought this was “really good leverage of money.

    “Secondly, I see it as a key part of this volunteer program that we’ve been talking about to have a vehicle that a volunteer could drive without having to have a special license, and also the wheelchair accessibility is very important, and economy of scale of having a van rather than the bus trying to drive two people around.

     “Those of us that are on the transportation commission know that we’ve just stopped any service to Reno and that has created a big problem for people seeking non-emergency medical.”

    Hall said the vehicle was an 2008 model with only 200 miles on it and Senior Nutrition Coordinator Martha Heezel said everyone she talked to said trying to buy a more used van of that type for less money would get you a “very well-used” vehicle.

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