Facility Buses: Look for Changes Ahead

Facility buses: Look for changes ahead
Safety, style, and resident satisfaction are driving the long-term care transportation market
It’s not just riding anymore-it’s traveling. Unlike their grandparents and parents, today’s boomers are demanding more from retirement. And the market has responded with retirement communities designed to meet-and exceed-the expectations of this well-educated, active, socially conscious, and well-traveled generation. This is a generation of travelers and adventurers-starting with their first trip home from the hospital, they’ve been on the go and have no intentions of slowing down. And senior living is responding to their lifestyle expectations. To quote one of America’s newest seniors, Robert Allen Zimmerman, or as we know him, Bob Dylan: “The times, they are a-changin’.” The transportation services a facility provides will be no exception.

A facility’s bus or van will still take travelers from point A to point B, whether it’s to appointments, shopping, a day of sightseeing, or a casino junket, but will do so equipped with the latest technology. Some of this technology is already in the marketplace and more is yet to come. Halsey King, a Carlsbad, California’based transportation professional whose firm provides management advisory assistance, technical training and, maintenance education for bus fleets in the United States and abroad, offers his vision on future bus technology.

Passenger Amenities
“Comfort and safety issues are spearheading vehicle upgrades. One of the trends I see already being introduced into the long-term care market is the use of drop-down video screens,” says King. Not only does this amenity provide entertainment for riders on longer excursions, it also can serve as an educational outlet by providing facility-specific and health information programming. But, according to King, the benefits don’t stop there. “These screens can be a medium for advertising medical products, equipment, and medications.” Because this is a very inexpensive way to advertise to the senior population, cooperative advertising may become available as a resource to offset the cost of installation.

Meanwhile, while riders are enjoying the movie, improved heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems will provide new levels of rider comfort. “HVAC systems for buses and vans will be changing from manual operation to the thermostatic temperature control now featured in luxury passenger vehicles,” says King. He also forecasts the use of micron air filtration to keep the interior air fresh and clean. “If, for example, a bus is driving through an area with high pollen counts, the right front tire throws that contaminated air into the stairwell, and then it diffuses throughout the cabin. The result? Passengers start sneezing,” he explains. And the good news is that tighter fitting doors and windows, along with the micron air filtration, can be retrofitted to existing vehicles.

Further cabin improvements will include brightly colored seats and new interior lighting systems. “The entire transportation industry is changing from the use of incandescent bulbs to LED (light-emitting diode) systems,” says King. LED technology allows people with low vision a better chance to see where they are going.

Safety and Security
Although comfort and convenience are certainly important to a pleasant ride, safety is always paramount in long-term care. A comfortable, incident-free excursion adds to residents’ and families’ overall satisfaction and facility risk management, as well, adds King. One current technology that is finding its way into senior transportation is the global positioning system (GPS). An administrator might think, “Why would I want that?” King indicates that because this technology is coming down in price, it is becoming more attractive to this market. “It’s not uncommon for a large organization to have a number of buses. In case of a breakdown, flat tire, or an emergency, the office manager can find the bus easily by identifying its location on a computer screen.” GPS can also aid the driver by providing shorter driving routes to a given location.

In addition to GPS, King forecasts that camera monitoring systems that capture events inside and outside of the vehicle will offer a measure of security to passengers, as well as video documentation for the facility in case of an accident. “This technology is not just for new buses and vans. It is very affordable and can be easily incorporated into existing vehicles,” adds King.

Wheelchairs, Walkers, and More
Residents treasure their independence, and families like to see them remain active and involved. Even if mobility is limited, there is equipment to help. First and foremost is the wheelchair. Tomorrow’s buses are being designed to accommodate the wheelchair and a variety of other mobility aids. King reflects, “Thirty years ago, we put a resident on the bus. Then, a mechanic or the driver would have to find a sturdy rope to tie the chair down. Then, in the mid-1970s, we graduated to belt systems that anchored chairs in place.” According to King, today’s systems are simple. In about two minutes, a passenger can be wheeled to the designated seating area and the wheelchair secured in place by two front and two rear straps that “hook” onto the chair’s frame.

To accommodate wheelchair transfers, there is the all-important wheelchair lift. Lifts are designed to take a person from the sidewalk, raise him or her up to floor level, and then position him or her in the bus. In 1975, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, says King, looked at safety statistics and determined that changes needed to be made to lift systems that would ensure better operation and a greater safety threshold. And improvements continue to be made. “New lifts now sport all sorts of bells and whistles,” comments King. They have blinking red lights, for example, that indicate that someone is standing in the wrong place for safe operation. In addition, these improved lifts are equipped with cycle counters, which are similar to a car’s odometer, explains King. From the time of installation until the bus is retired, the owner will know how many times the lift has been deployed. “This cycle counter,” says King, “provides a great way to gauge use and determine a schedule of maintenance, inspection, or repair.” He adds that this upgraded equipment is available now.

Coming Attractions
King bases his outlook on information and research from the bus industry, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and his personal experience and observations on pending federal legislation. As a direct result of the fire on the bus carrying nursing home evacuees from Hurricane Rita, King believes that the government and transportation industry will review and make safety recommendations on transporting limited sizes and quantities of oxygen bottles and similar medical devices in future vehicles. “Also, because their size is coming down, as well as the price, I believe portable defibrillators may become a standard part of the safety package,” adds King.

Complementing the health benefits of cleaner air and better lighting, psychologic boosts also can add to quality of life (and travel), as exemplified by one of the most recent offerings of independence-the personal mobility device, or stand-up motorized scooter, which opens up a world of opportunity to those with limited mobility. “Right now, these two-wheeled mobility devices are rather large but, although it seems far-fetched, I believe that they will become smaller. There may even be fold-up models in the future,” says King. In essence, the resident will ride to the bus, ride on the bus, and scoot off the bus to enjoy the day’s activities.

The Most Underused Bus Feature
Whether a facility’s transportation consists of new or old vehicles, King suggests that the most critical (and least regarded) accessory is the manila envelope that arrives with the new bus. “The most important part of that vehicle is the warranty card,” stresses King. “Without it, the chassis manufacturer has no idea who you are, where you are, and what the vehicle’s intended use is. With this information on file, you can automatically receive safety recalls and/or service information you need. So send it in-immediately.”

That envelope also contains four universal wheelchair handicapped decals that should be placed on each outside corner of the bus. If the bus has a lift, there will be a maintenance manual included with the owner’s manual and instructions on using the wheelchair tie-downs. The body manufacturer may also include an inspection pamphlet that contains valuable tips. “Did you know that you should never wash down a bus interior with a garden hose or that you should never use oil to lubricate the window seals? It’s information like this that will keep your vehicle in top-notch condition,” says King, “and it’s in the information packet that comes with your new bus.”

Halsey King is President of Halsey King & Associates in Carlsbad, California. For further information, call (760) 434-2400. To send your comments to the author and editors, please e-mail hoban0506@nursinghomesmagazine.com.

Topics: Articles , Facility management , Operations