OKEECHOBEE — At their March 18 meeting, the Okeechobee County commissioners unanimously agreed to continue county van transportation of veterans to the VA hospital.
Denise Whitehead, of the county’s community services department, said most of the surrounding counties have discontinued this service due to COVID-19 virus concerns. She said Okeechobee County transports four to seven veterans each day, five days a week, to the VA hospital in West Palm Beach.
She said all of the drivers have said they are willing to continue the service for the Okeechobee veterans.
“We are a remote, rural county,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread. “These veterans do not have another way to get to the medical care they need.”
“This is a vital service for these veterans,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper. “We have a large veteran population.”
Ms. Whitehead said the trips are for scheduled medical services. She said the van drivers have been instructed on safety and given supplies to take every precaution.
“If we have staff that is willing to do it, I am in favor of continuing to do it, but I suggest we do it based on urgency of the need,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens. “If someone is going to have dialysis, that is a service that they need.”
She suggested they prioritize the trips to minimize the risk to the drivers and to the veterans. “If it’s an appointment that can be postponed without any health repercussions, we should encourage them to do that,” she said.
Ms. Whitehead said the passengers are questioned to find out if they are at risk of having COVID-19.
Commissioner Goodbread suggested the van drivers also take the veterans’ temperatures before they board the van. Ms. Whitehead said they could use a forehead digital thermometer with no direct contact to the skin.