Strike is leaving
the disabled stranded

Disabled adults dependent on TheHandi-Van are struggling to find alternatives since the transportation service has been curtailed by the bus strike, now in its fifth day.

At the All-Star Sports & Therapy Center in Honolulu, 75 percent of all its patients have had to cancel appointments for rehabilitative care this week because they rely on the bus or TheHandi-Van, said Dr. Maryellen Markley, executive director of All-Star.

The center sees more than 80 patients a day, and about 40 percent of their patients rely on TheHandi-Van, she said. Those who take the van are usually the most severely disabled and have the lowest incomes, so they cannot afford cab fare, Markley added.

"I had a patient who called me this morning and cried," she said. The stroke patient was afraid her condition would regress without therapy and "she would lose her ability to live independently. It's very frustrating," Markley added.

Although Handi-Van workers are covered by a different contract from striking bus employees, they are both covered by the same union, the Teamsters, and they are both employed by Oahu Transit Services Inc.

Patricia Nielson, vice president of OTS's Handi-Van division, said service to the centers has been curtailed because there is a picket line barring access to the maintenance yard on Middle Street.

Service to the adult day-care centers constitutes 40 percent of the bus service for the disabled. It also accounts for "60-70 percent of our mileage" and creates the biggest need for maintenance on the vans, she said. Because of this, OTS has had to limit its services to medical appointments and more critical on-demand service.

Minor maintenance is being done outside the maintenance facility, but "it will become more of a hardship as it goes on," she said.

OTS had asked the Teamsters Local 996 for a "gentleman's agreement (to allow access to the facility) before the strike, but we were unable to get it," Nielson said.

She has not had any complaints from adult centers because OTS did "as much as possible" to prepare them for the strike.

The Ruger Center of the Arc in Hawaii has arranged rides for the 45 clients who normally use the vans, said manager Michael Thomas, who also directs Arc's Kailua branch. The Arc in Hawaii is one of the largest providers of adult day care in the state.

Parents or relatives are doing the brunt of the transporting, with staff members at both facilities picking up about a dozen clients with Arc-owned vans, he said.

Officials at several other adult centers on Oahu said their clients were coping with the strike.

People who attend centers run by Kuakini Geriatric Care Inc. and the Salvation Army managed to find alternate transportation, officials said.

But Jan Shishido, manager of Kuakini's three facilities, said, "Maybe if it goes on for weeks, people won't be able to do this."


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