Families are often spread across the country these days. Children grow up, head off to college and follow job opportunities, and aging parents may make late career moves of their own and then downsize and relocate after retiring.

Technology can overcome geographical distance in many ways. But, when an elderly loved one begins needing hands-on assistance and someone close by to advocate for and monitor them, even 50 miles can be a significant obstacle to quality caregiving. Frequent visits via car or airplane can get expensive very quickly and require time off work and away from family.

As care needs increase, many long-distance caregivers decide that their care recipients would receive better care and more family time if they lived closer. Whether the goal is to have a senior reside in the community, move in with family, or live in a nearby long-term care facility, the move itself poses several logistical problems. Senior move managers can assist with the material aspects of moving, but what is the best way to relocate a frail senior? For those who cannot handle traditional road trips or air travel, the best possible solution is to use a non-emergency long-distance medical transport service.

Long-Distance Ambulette Services for Seniors

There are plenty of companies around the country that offer long-distance medical transportation services for seniors who are unable to use other methods of transportation safely and comfortably. Services are usually provided in large passenger vans or recreational vehicles (RVs) that have been specially modified for medical transport. These vehicles typically accommodate an adjustable stretcher or hospital-style bed as well as any needed medical and mobility equipment, such as a wheelchair, oxygen tanks, etc.

Toileting and using rest areas is often a concern when transporting incontinent seniors and those with limited mobility. Some vehicles like RVs have small ambulatory bathrooms, which aren’t ideal if a loved one needs assistance with transfers, while others have room for a bedside commode. Other options include the use of a bedpan and traditional incontinence products like adult diapers.

Ambulettes are staffed by professional drivers (often two who can trade off for longer non-stop trips) and a medical professional like a nurse or an emergency medical technician (EMT). Assistance is usually provided with transfers and shifting patients, medication administration, feeding, and personal care like toileting, catheter care and incontinence care. Meals are also provided on longer trips and specialized diets can be accommodated.

Depending on the type of vehicle, there is usually room for at least one family caregiver to accompany their loved one on the trip at no additional cost. This can make the journey much less distressing for a senior. Some companies even allow a beloved pet to ride along with their owner. To help pass the time, vehicles are usually equipped with a television screen and DVD player, and some even feature Wi-Fi access.

These ambulettes are ideal for interstate travel to relocate a frail elder. However, these companies do not provide emergency medical care. The ideal patient is one who is medically stable but requires routine medical assistance and supervision.

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How Much Do Ambulette Services Cost?

The cost of medical transportation services varies widely but tends to be very competitive. Some companies offer nationwide, statewide and/or local services, and some even feature a minimum trip distance that ranges from 150 to 300 miles.

While Medicare and Medicaid do cover the cost of medically necessary non-emergency transport needed to diagnose or treat a patient, long-distance relocation services are not covered. Private insurance does not cover this service either, therefore seniors or their family members usually pay out of pocket.

This service can be very expensive, but compared to the cost of frequent travel to provide hands-on care and hiring a geriatric care manager to personally advocate for your loved one, it’s likely money well spent. The level of care a senior needs, the distance of the overall trip and the size of the vehicle required will have the most impact on pricing. Companies typically offer an initial consultation over the phone and provide pricing information before scheduling a trip.

How to Find the Best Long-Distance Medical Transport Service

Depending on a senior’s needs, there are many different factors that should influence which company to hire. For example, if an elder requires catheter care and assistance with transfers along the journey, then it’s important to ask prospective companies about how their medical employees are trained and what credentials they have.

Safety on the road is a universal concern when hiring a medical transport company. Inquire about the type of experience and licensing that drivers have and whether they participate in any ongoing driving and safety training. Ask about the company’s track record regarding accidents, delays, and how frequently their vehicles are serviced and inspected.

Many companies offer a fleet of vehicles with various seating capacities and features. Be sure to communicate any specific needs that your loved one has and ensure that they can be accommodated in a vehicle and by a staff member or an accompanying family member. Meeting these needs will likely affect the overall price as well.