Medical drivers provide a vital service during the COVID-19 crisis.
Timm Zumm, a non-emergency medical transport driver, cleans his vehicle between passengers ever since the outbreak of COVID-19. (Photo by Lola Abu)

Step inside the life of Timm Zumm, one of many non-emergency medical transport drivers

The outbreak of COVID-19 is changing many aspects of life, but not the need for those with life-threatening illnesses to receive medical care.  

That’s where non-emergency medical transport drivers like Timm Zumm come in. 

A group of workers that Zumm thinks too few people even know exist, these drivers typically work as independent contractors, providing a service that is as necessary as the emergency medical rides provided by EMT’s. 

Prior to the virus outbreak – or BC, ‘Before COVID’ as Zumm refers to it – he was providing rides to all kinds of folks. He would pick them up and drive them to dental appointments, routine doctor’s visits, trips to the hospital, methadone clinics, often stopping at a pharmacy on the drive home to pick up new meds.

His typical workday was 10 to 12 hours. Based in the town of Spring Green, he put around 300 miles a day on his Prius driving patients to larger cities like Madison for their healthcare needs. 

“I could have worked 20 hours a day,” said Zumm, 67, who has worked as a driver for the past five years.  “There was that much demand.”

Then came the outbreak of the coronavirus. Social distancing measures were put in place to contain the spread of the virus. Elective procedures and many clinics canceled non-emergency appointments in an attempt to save necessary supplies for frontline workers and to prevent an overwhelming of the healthcare system.

Timm Zumm is a non-emergency medical transport driver. These days, the folks he picks up for a ride can’t afford not to continue medical care and are most at risk of contracting COVID-19. (Photo Jessica VanEgeren)

Zumm went into a hybrid of survival and rider-protection mode. He knew the most critically ill patients he drove still would need him. And because these are patients who are receiving chemotherapy or radiation, they are the people most at risk for contracting the virus. 

“They will die if they don’t get treatment,” Zumm said. “For me, it is rewarding to help people that have no other means of getting to where they need to go for medical care.”

Zumm now has a trunk-full of cleaning supplies. Before he picks up a new rider and after he drops them off, Zumm grabs his disinfectant spray and paper towel and cleans the interior of his car.

He lucked out and found a pack of N95 masks in his workshop. He kept seven of them. Each mask is numbered one through seven. He uses one a day, then airs it out when he gets home. When he has used number seven he starts back over with number one. 

“Until nurses and others are taken care of first, I’ll keep using my method,” Zumm said. 

The service Zumm provides is free to BadgerCare and Medicaid recipients. Non-emergency medical drivers are typically independent business owners who contract with a larger company. For that reason, they do not qualify for sick pay or unemployment. 

“We don’t get hazard pay. Nobody provides us with PPE,” Zumm said. “I am totally responsible to keep myself and my medical patients healthy. In my humble opinion, medical drivers are frontline healthcare workers.”

With the drop in business, Zumm said he has more time on his hands. He recently spent part of that time helping out a friend after reading on her Facebook post that she was in dire straits. Having recently lost her job and with little money and no car, the friend was reaching out for help. Zumm made some calls.

He picked up three boxes of food from a Dodgeville food pantry and dog food for her pet from the humane society.  

“I had the time and now I know she is taken care of for a while,” he said. “The point is, if we can, we all need to be doing stuff like this for others.”