Rowan Villas is a Western Health and Social Care Trust adult mental health day care unit based in Omagh. The Rural Links to Health and Wellbeing Project provides transport for Rowan Villas service users to and from their day care sessions. A representative of Rowan Villas shared with us why they entered this partnership and their experience to date:
“Rowan Villas provides mental health support to clients with mental health challenges who are living in the community and connected to the Recovery Team. The service at Rowan Villas provides structure to our service users’ day; they come along either for the morning session or the afternoon session. These service users come from all over. Some come from local areas such as Omagh or down in Fermanagh; some are further away and living in more rural areas such as Plumbridge, Newtownstewart or Carrickmore.
The support provided by Easilink’s Rural Links to Health and Wellbeing Project is totally invaluable. For many of our service users, Easilink is their only transport option. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Rowan Villas had a minibus, and we had more staff. We’re now down to three staff members. It wasn’t feasible to continue providing transport, so we had to stop. This created a gap for our service users. The pandemic saw the close of a partner mental health day care unit in our area; clients from that centre transferred over to us. Some of those clients have previously used Easilink to access support and so that continued when they came to Rowan Villas; that’s where our partnership stems from.
Easilink’s Rural Links to Health and Wellbeing Project addresses the transport needs of our service users. They can book their transport based around their sessions with Easilink directly or we can liaise with Easilink on their behalf if they are anxious about using the phone or making those arrangements themselves. In many rural areas there is no public transport and taxis are expensive. A lot of our service users would have low incomes and finances would be an issue for them. Easilink is convenient and affordable. Otherwise, they’d be spending £20-30 on a taxi each way which in turn would have further knock-on effects for them, both financially and from a place of stress.
There is one woman who attends Rowan Villas who lives rurally. Without Easilink she has to try and get a taxi for three miles into her village, then a bus into Omagh, then a bus out to Rowan Villa, and then walk a quarter mile to us. That’s very stressful and she couldn’t afford it anyway. She isn’t comfortable with the big buses with lots of people, but with Easilink, there is a small group on the bus, and they know each other. It just works.
Addressing our service users’ transport needs also has knock-on positive impacts. For example, the access created by Easilink enables our service users to collect their weekly prescriptions. Rowan Villas is near to the hospital, and we have links with the Community Mental Health team who know when Easilink will be bringing in a service user from Greencastle for example. They arrange that they can meet a nurse while here and get their weekly supply. The Rural Links to Health and Wellbeing Project also creates positive social impacts for our service users. For many of our services users, attending Rowan Villas and using Easilink is the only time they’re meeting people week to week. Many are isolated out in the community. They tell us that Rural Villas gives them a reason to get up in the morning and because they know Easilink is coming at a certain time, they’re up and dressed; Easilink helps to motivate them. The service users are all on first name terms with the Easilink drivers too, and the drivers know our service users and have a great relationship with them. There’s one driver, Sean, who I would highlight as a gentleman. He’s fantastic with the service users and we often say he must have come down from heaven.
From our perspective as a service provider, it’s a weight off our shoulders knowing that Easilink is there to provide transport for our service users. If our service users can get here, they can share their problems and get the support they need. Without Easilink, that wouldn’t happen, and the knock-on effects would be severe.
Over the week of the July 12th bank holiday, Easilink was closed. The attendance at our support dropped from about 100 expected to 40. That highlights the level of support Easilink is providing to us here and the number of people who would not be able to access critical mental health support without Easilink. The woman who records our attendance rang me to ask whether we were having a problem with our computer system that week because she couldn’t believe how low the attendance was. It was simply that there was no transport. It was drastic. It also had a knock-on effect for our service users’ mental health. Some of our service users said it was the longest week ever. They simply couldn’t access our service.
It would be ideal if the Easilink Rural Links to Health and Wellbeing Project could be offered year-round with no gaps. In Easilink’s absence there would be a lot of isolated people who can’t afford taxis and have no friends or family to provide other means of getting here. Without Easilink, our clients are lost, and we are lost too. Easilink is an excellent service all around, including in their promptness and timekeeping. The service is invaluable, and our partnership is operating with great success. We will definitely continue working with Easilink and the Rural Links to Health and Wellbeing Project in future.”