Outback town Yowah, with some outside help, finds ambulance for flying doctor patients
The small opal mining town of Yowah — full-time population 100 — is more than 930 kilometres west of Brisbane and has a small airstrip, 4km from town.
But the community had no dedicated ambulance to transport patients to the airstrip when they need medical evacuation by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
Scott Shorten, whose family has lived in the town since the 1970s, knew something needed to be done.
Mr Shorten has been helping his neighbours through medical emergencies for decades, but in the quest for a patient transport vehicle, he found an army of helpers.
“My family has helped the RFDS for nearly 40 years and were in charge of the first medical chest,” he told ABC Radio Brisbane.
“When residents get sick we provide medication under doctor’s orders [from the chest].”
“Then when there’s an emergency, I’m involved with getting them out to the airport or doing what we can till the RFDS arrives.
“We’re like any small town — we keep an eye on each other.”
Ute moonlights as an ambulance
Currently, most patients needing aeromedical evacuation are transported to the airstrip in Mr Shorten’s ute.
“If it’s not in the back of the ute, then it’s a trailer — in dust or in rain — and it was never good for the patient nor the doctors or the nurses.”
So when Mr Shorten endeavoured to find a grant to fund a community ambulance that would be more comfortable for patients, he said “things snowballed”.
Patients are currently transported on the back of utes. (Supplied: Royal Flying Doctor Service)
“Out of the blue a tourist named Peter from the Sunshine Coast donated $10,000 to us,” he said.
“We found a former ambulance van at the Gold Coast and the tourist who donated $10,000 paid for it on the spot.”
Peter had recently sold his civil engineering firm and told the group they could pay him back when the rest of the funding came through for the vehicle.
Through community fundraising a further $4,000 was raised, and the local golf club, that was closing down, donated its remaining $10,000 to the cause.
For the love of a stretcher
There was more was to come.
While trying to source a medical stretcher and rails for the ambulance, they found a seller in Wagga Wagga, NSW.
“They are usually $12,000, but this bloke had one for sale for $2,000,” Mr Shorten said.
“We purchased it and then he generously delivered it in person and installed it for us.
“He drove for two days to get it here.”
Yowah’s vehicle will be similar to the one pictured and will transport people to the nearest airstrip. (Supplied: RFDS)
Wheelie great result for the community
With the vehicle and stretcher acquired, Mr Shorten thought things could not get any better — until the local Rural Fire Service stepped in.
“They decided to take the vehicle on as an evac vehicle, so they will handle the registration, insurance, wear and tear — and if we ever needed it replaced, they will do it,” he said.
“It’s so good to see how many people have made this happen; not just people from out west, but from the Sunshine Coast and from Wagga Wagga.”
Mr Shorten was awarded the RFDS Queensland Hero for 2018 for his work in supporting his community and ensuring its health needs were met.
“It’s nice to be able to have some good news from out here,” he said.
“What you hope for is if something happens to you then there’s someone to help you.”
The community hopes to have the vehicle ready to start operating early next year.
ABC Radio Brisbane has partnered with not-for-profit RFDS Queensland for the annual Queensland Gives Christmas Appeal to raise money for vital lifesaving equipment.
To donate, visit the Queensland Gives website or phone 07 3852 7515.