Planning for the Guthrie County Hospital in Guthrie Center got underway in 1944, and the original building was dedicated October 7, 1951. Earlier this year, the hospital was named one of the Top 100 Critical Access Hospitals in the United States by The Char-tis Center for Rural Health.

One reason for the hospital’s success is the Guthrie County Health Care Foundation, which was formed in 1995, and later renamed Guthrie County Hospital Foundation. The foundation was organized to generate and manage donations to the Guthrie County Hospital (GHC). It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity, which allows donors to receive tax benefits.

Kent Stephenson and his wife Shirley have lived at Lake Panorama for 17 years. He has been on the GCH Foundation board since January 2009, and currently is board chair. In the past, he was a patient at the hospital two different times, receiving antibiotic infusions that required stays of six weeks or more.

“Before I was a patient, I didn’t know anything about the hospital, except it was there,” Stephenson says. “But the nurses and staff all were great, and I got interested in helping in some way.”

The Foundation’s mission is to provide financial support to the Guthrie County Hospital so it can offer quality healthcare close to home. One way it helps reach that mission is by providing free transportation to medical appointments.

In 2004, the Foundation launched the Guthrie County Hospital Courtesy Van. In the beginning there was just one van, and it was only available to senior citizens 60 and older.

Now there are two courtesy vans available for anyone living in Guthrie County who doesn’t have access to a car, and is 18 years or older. Stephenson said there is some flexibility for those living just outside county borders, and coming to a GCH facility.

Anyone who fits these criteria can request a ride to and from an appointment at the Guthrie County Hospital, one of the GCH Clinics in Adair, Panora, and Stuart, the Guthrie Family Medicine Center in Guthrie Center, or to congregate meals at Sneakers Café located in the hospital’s Healthy Living Center.

Between May 1, 2017, and the same date a year later, the two vans had 550 hours of driving time, for an average of 52 trips and 2,308 miles per month. The vans are equipped with leather seats, making it easier for clients to slide in and out. Two older vans were given to the hospital for use in other ways, but are available as backups, if needed.

Besides purchasing the vans, all maintenance and operating costs are covered by the Foundation. During the school year, students at AC/GC High School keep the vans

detailed as part of a class. The average annual cost to operate the courtesy van program is $16,000.

One cost the Foundation doesn’t have for the courtesy vans is hiring drivers. That’s because volunteers do the driving.

The drivers are not healthcare workers. They do, however, receive special training and screening, and are available to assist as needed to get clients to and from the van to their appointment. The vans are not wheelchair accessible.

The vans operate Monday through Friday during regular business hours. “We have a good group of volunteer drivers right now, but we’re always looking for people who might be interested in helping,” Stephenson says. “Some drive just one or two days a week, and some are substitutes for when our regular volunteers aren’t available.”

Stephenson says the Foundation recently sponsored a dinner for the volunteer drivers, as a way to recognize their efforts. “The volunteers enjoyed sharing stories about the incredible relationships they form with the people they transport,” he says. “It really becomes a social time for the patients, but also the volunteers.”

Nancy Prescott of Panora says she was relieved to discover the courtesy van service. ‘I knew after my surgery at the Guthrie County Hospital I wouldn’t be able to drive for a period of time, but needed trips to the hospital for physical therapy and doctor appointments. The courtesy van saved me from having to impose on family and friends to rearrange their schedules to accommodate my needs,” Prescott says.

“The drivers were friendly, courteous and helpful. They graciously took my walker and stored it in the van, returning it to me when reaching my destination. They were excellent drivers, and I never had a worry riding with them,” Prescott says. “I’m not sure I could have gone to my therapy sessions without the courtesy van.”

Kass Duis, also of Panora, was in the same situation. “When I returned home from knee replacement surgery, I needed several weeks of physical therapy. The courtesy van was perfect for me since I couldn’t drive myself,” Duis says. “They were always on time and very professional.”

Betty Hansen of Guthrie Center is another person who has praise for the program. “The van transportation has been an excellent service for me and our community,” Hansen says. “The van drivers are very nice and willing to provide minimal assistance such as helping with my walker when they pick me up. They have provided transportation to me for visits to and from my appointments.”

GCH is affiliated with Unity Point Health – Des Moines. Stephenson said at a recent Unity Point meeting for foundation groups like the GCH Foundation, others asked lots of questions about the courtesy van program. “We realized this was because no one else offers a similar program to transfer patients to and from hospital or doctor appointments,” he says. “It’s a unique program, and we’re proud of it.”

Anyone needing a ride to a medical appointment at one of the many Guthrie County Hospital clinics or locations, or congregate meals at Sneakers Café, should contact Trish at 641-332-3810 to submit their request.

The GCH Foundation board, which meets monthly, includes 14 members. Besides Stephenson, board members are Steve Smith, Dale Grotjohn, Kim Finnegan, Dennis Flanery, Eloise Wilson, Forrest Schnobrich, Kirby Klinge, Marlene Sunds, Nancy Armstrong, Sherry Eddy, Susan Bowland, Ted Erickson and Tom Godwin.

Donor gifts have made it possible for the foundation to contribute to many major projects at GCH.These include the ambulance garage, infusion suite, fitness center equipment, hospital bed mattresses, and patient room renovations. In 2018, the Foundation raised more than $35,000. On average the Foundation raises $25,000 annually through fundraisers such as an annual appeal, semi-annual Masquerade, and annual golf tournament.

Donations can be designated to something specific. The foundation welcomes all levels of charitable donations whether through monthly pledges, yearly giving, private foundations or a promise of support through wills and bequests. For more information, call 641-332-2201 or stop by the GCH front office.