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Twin State Home Care Provider Gives a Car for Work Afar

West Lebanon — A couple weeks ago, Lori Menard was on her way to see a patient when the “check engine” light started to glow on her dashboard.

Menard called her brother, an auto mechanic, to see if he could help. After a detour to his shop in Brattleboro, she learned that her 2002 Honda Civic had just a half-quart of oil left. That’s what happens when you drive 60,000 miles a year.

“Just because of the high mileage, I was so nervous about breaking down,” Menard said.

Menard drives a lot for her job as a medical social worker for Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire. The Claremont resident has put 210,000 miles on her Honda so far, and the threat of her car breaking down is more than an inconvenience — it hinders her ability to see more of the people her agency cares for.

Yesterday, she traded up to a nicer car.

The VNA has just begun offering new Nissan Versas as company cars to employees such as Menard, who find themselves driving an increasing number of miles as demand for VNA services increase throughout the 4,000-square-mile service area along the Connecticut River Valley. Employees pay $50 per week to cover gas, but the organization has agreed to pick up the tab for maintenance and lease costs in a deal struck with Enterprise Fleet Management.

The deal means less wear and tear on personal vehicles and provides reliable transportation to ensure caregivers can travel to the 6,000 patients they treat every year. Those patients live in an area that covers more than 100 towns in Vermont and New Hampshire and stretches from Brattleboro, Vt., to as far north as Newbury, Vt., west to Granville, Vt., and east to Sutton, N.H.

“One of the challenges is the geographic area we serve,” said Sheila Aubin, vice president of clinical operations at the VNA. “As the number of patients increase, we need to keep up with these demands.”

The VNA provides a variety of services, including home health care, hospice, physical, occupational and speech therapy, among others. Although it has experimented with providing some types of remote care, most of the care is delivered in patients’ homes.

The field staff log 1.5 million miles a year, and while they are reimbursed for their time and travel expenses, the reliability of vehicles has been an issue in the past, Aubin said. Weekly, someone on staff would miss work because of car problems. This is one effort to address that, she said.

Not everyone will get a car. The VNA is leasing 15 vehicles, eight for West Lebanon staff and seven going to the office in Bellows Falls, Vt.

Even for staff who have recently purchased cars, the proposition of driving one of the leased Nissans is attractive.

In the past two years, VNA nurse Zack Dickinson has put 88,000 miles on the odometer of his 2012 Chevrolet Cruze. Nearly all of that travel has been work-related, he said.

The Cruze runs just fine, but he’d rather not put so much strain on his personal car. Plus, he said driving around with the VNA logo painted on the side of his vehicle would be an opportunity to attract more patients near where he lives in Goshen.

“It’s an opportunity to show off where I work,” he said. “I can be a rolling billboard.”

Becki Gordon, an occupational therapist who lives in North Sutton, drives a sports utility vehicle that gets around 18 miles per gallon. It’s just four years old, but the Versa is likely to get twice the gas mileage.

She said she spends around $54 every two days to fill up her tank with gas. When she did the math, it made more financial sense for her to sign up for the program rather than keep using her personal car and getting reimbursed at 50 cents a mile.

“I don’t mind now if they tell me to go to Hanover, Windsor or Claremont now,” she said. “Give me patients.”

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.