Fighting Chance of Sag Harbor, which provides free counseling for cancer patients, will team up with Hometown Taxi of Hampton Bays to offer free rides to local doctors’ appointments starting this month.
“Transportation has really been a challenge for patients, many of whom are older or poor,” said Duncan Darrow, the founder of Fighting Chance. “If you live in Amagansett and you have only one car, or depend on public transportation, and you have to go for treatment, it can be very difficult.”
Until the coronavirus pandemic, Fighting Chance was able to call on a group of volunteer drivers, who would help shuttle patients to and from local appointments. But Mr. Darrow said that program has been placed on hiatus because too many clients are uncomfortable driving with others, even if they have a good relationship with them.
Their concerns about catching COVID-19 from their drivers should be assuaged by the fact that Hometown Taxi’s vehicles have a Plexiglas shield between the driver and passenger seats and are regularly disinfected.
Mr. Darrow said he made the connection with Bryan DaParma, the owner of Hampton Taxi, when one of the company’s cabs picked him up at Long Island MacArthur Airport. On the ride home, he asked if the company ever takes people to doctors’ appointments and was surprised to learn that of its 70 cabs, about 50 of them are used for just that purpose.
Under the new arrangement, Fighting Chance will pay half the cost of the cab fare, and Hometown Taxi will cover the rest. It is similar to a program Fighting Chance has with the Hampton Jitney, which each year provides 500 bus tickets at half price for Fighting Chance clients who have to go to New York City for appointments or treatment.
The program is being initially underwritten by a grant from Dr. Mark Pasmantier of New York Hospital, who has specialized in treating lung cancer for 40 years.
Mr. DaParma said his company has had a contract for several years with New York State to provide transportation for Medicaid clients to and from their appointments. A cancer survivor himself, he said his company’s goal has been to minimize the waiting time for Medicaid patients after they have undergone cancer treatments.
Over the years, Hometown Taxi has gained a reputation for stepping up to help when needed by offering things like free rides on New Year’s Eve. “Our company likes to give back to the communities we serve, and this new program permits us to do just that,” he said.
For now, the taxi service will extend from Hampton Bays to Montauk, but Mr. Darrow said it is possible it could be pushed farther west into Riverhead, if the demand warrants it.
Mr. Darrow added that he expected volunteer drivers to return once the pandemic ends. “Drivers have found it to be a very rewarding volunteer experience,” Mr. Darrow said, “but they have been sidelined since the curtain dropped in March 2020. I think COVID fears are going to abate, to be conservative, by year’s end, and then people will get back to their old lives.”
To request a taxi, cancer patients can call the Sag Harbor office of Fighting Chance at 631-725-4646 or visit its website at fightingchance.org.