By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
Hospital visitors aren’t always in the best of moods.
But at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, 18 volunteers do their best to lighten the load, at least the burden the walk from the main parking lot places on visitors’ feet.
From 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, the 16 men and two women who drive the hospital’s SaintMobile golf carts transport hospital visitors and patients alike between their cars to the hospital and back.
Two carts are in use every day, with the third in reserve, said Harold Shreve, the volunteer who coordinates the SaintMobile program.
But SaintMobile drivers don’t only make runs between the main parking lot and the hospital. Doctors’ offices near the hospital, the Hospitality House and any of the hospital’s various parking lots also are possible destinations.
SaintMobile drivers keep track of each run and how many passengers they carry. Just about a year ago, Shreve said, the 10-year-old service topped the 1 million passenger mark.
“Our average right now is probably just a little over 400 passengers a day,” he said.
A program on the go
In 2011, in fact, SaintMobile drivers provided 104,640 rides for passengers.
They don’t keep track of their mileage, Shreve said, but SaintMobile drivers drive so many miles they manage to wear out a golf cart every year. They buy a new one every year, so the carts are on a three-year replacement cycle.
“I assure you at the end of three years they are ready to be replaced,” he said.
Comparing the SaintMobiles to carts actually used at a golf course, Shreve said, “We, in one year, get about as much use out of one of them as they do in three years at a golf course.”
The electric carts are recharged daily, Shreve said.
“We run ’em all day and charge ’em all night,” he said.
The SaintMobiles are not strictly used for transport to and from St. Mary’s, Shreve said. The carts and drivers take part in other events around town, including March of Dimes March for Babies, Relay for Life, United Way Chili Cookoff, Cherokee Strip Parade and the Feed the Neighborhood backpack giveaway at Crosslin Park.
“We do a lot of things with them rather than just transport people to and from the hospital,” Shreve said.
But making the run from the parking lot, up the hill to the hospital and back is the SaintMobile drivers’ primary duty.
“There are people who regularly tell us they couldn’t visit the hospital without those (the SaintMobiles) because of the hill or their inability to walk,” Shreve said. “Some of them can make it up the hill and can’t make it down, some of them can make it down the hill and can’t make it up.”
Many people are surprised when a SaintMobile pulls up near their car, Shreve said.
“You can’t believe the number of people that tell us, ‘I’ve been to hospitals everywhere and I’ve never, ever been anywhere that they would transport us,’” Shreve said.
“I’ve had several say that there was only maybe one hospital in Oklahoma that had this service available,” said SaintMobile driver A.Z. Callicoat. “The vast majority don’t offer any type of transportation.”
The entire program is volunteer-centered, Shreve said. St. Mary’s volunteers buy and maintain the carts with money earned from fundraisers, donations and proceeds from the hospital gift shop.
“We had two fairly large donations last year,” Shreve said, “people who just appreciated the service.”
SaintMobile drivers also are the recipients of occasional tips from happy passengers, Shreve said.
“I had one today,” said Callicoat.
“Every little bit helps,” Shreve said.
Just that one percent ...
By far the majority of passengers are happy with the SaintMobile service, Shreve said, but on occasion the drivers’ reception is as cold as a windy winter day.
“Occasionally some aren’t as pleasant as the vast majority,” said Callicoat.
“I’ve had drivers quit because passengers would just read them the riot act,” Shreve said. “They don’t like that.”
SaintMobile drivers, Shreve stressed, “can’t pick up everybody.” Occasionally people get upset about being passed up.
“The last driver I had quit, he was out there by himself and he had more passengers than he could carry,” said Shreve. “He went to get them and they read him the riot act from the time he got there. Then, he took them back out there, and they chewed on him again. That was his last day.”
Fortunately, however, the vast majority of passengers appreciate the SaintMobiles and their drivers.
“Ninety-nine percent, I would say,” Shreve said, “more than 99 percent.”
‘Always stand more drivers’
Shreve said he always is looking for more drivers.
“I could always stand more drivers,” he said. “Just like more volunteers, we could always stand more volunteers.”
Shreve said drivers get a great deal of satisfaction out of the time spent in the SaintMobiles, which operate in all kinds of weather, as long as it is safe for them to do so.
“If the drivers didn’t get satisfaction out of it, they wouldn’t be out there,” he said. “In the wintertime it’s a terrible, terrible cold job. In the summertime it’s a terrible, terrible hot job. If they didn’t enjoy doing it, they wouldn’t be out there.”
SaintMobiles are neither air-conditioned nor heated, with the exception of small catalytic heaters carried aboard on the coldest winter days.
“About all it does is keep your hands from freezing,” Shreve said. “ It doesn’t help your feet at all.”
The carts’ capacity is supposed to be three adults and the driver, but that limit often is exceeded, Shreve said.
“I’ve had seven in there beside me before,” he said, “but they weren’t all big people, there were kids. You get relatives and kids, you can cram more than that in there.”
All young riders are given Tootsie Rolls, Shreve said, and some not so young, as well.
“Once in awhile adults will say, ‘Can I have a Tootsie Roll?’” Shreve said.
“They don’t want to be left out,” said Callicoat.
One trip at a time
Shreve, a former St. Mary’s volunteer of the year, also does other jobs for the hospital, working registration and escort. He has logged nearly 5,000 volunteer hours, in all.
But his favorite volunteer activity is driving the SaintMobiles, said Shreve, who worked 40 years as a carpet layer and 26 as a firefighter, then worked as a maintenance man at Oakwood Christian Church before finally retiring.
“I tremendously enjoy helping people,” he said.
One trip at a time.