NAPOLEON — Utilizing state grant funding through the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Henry County transportation Network (HCTN) here will be branching out, perhaps as a forerunner to a more permanent regional effort.

More than $100,000 through ODOT will be used for the Napoleon-based network to expand COVID-related transportation services to citizens of Defiance, Fulton, Paulding and Williams counties. The funding is part of a $7 million state program known as “Rides to Community Immunity.”

As the name suggests, the program’s goal is to provide transportation to those who may have difficulty getting to a place where COVID vaccinations are being administered.

However, according to HCTN Executive Director Brad Booth, grant funds can cover transportation costs for any COVID-related matter, such as testing between Jan. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022.

The “Rides to Community Immunity” grants were intended to be directed toward public transportation entities in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, explained Booth. But not all counties have them, so in lieu of a public transit entity, the funds go to the county’s health department.

However, Booth noted that health departments in the surrounding counties turned their allocations over to HCTN to provide the service.

Grant amounts by county are: Paulding, $15,000; Defiance, $23,566; Fulton, $25,776; Henry, $17,033; and Williams, $22,724.

Although the program effectively is up and running, Booth told The Crescent-News Friday that his agency is in the process of determining demand for the service. This will help decide how many more part-time drivers will be needed.

“It’s (driver hiring) going to be demand-based and seeing where we are at,” said Booth. “We hope to be able to work with what we already have in place.”

He said he believes the network can absorb additional work with its existing vehicle fleet.

Those who need a ride from HCTN to a COVID vaccination or related matter can contact the network at 419-592-8726 to make an appointment.

The network prefers 48-hour notice for its appointments, but Booth said “the more notice, the better.”

The effort dovetails with an initiative led by Maumee Valley Planning Organization to bring the network’s services to Defiance and Fulton counties on a more regular basis (see related story).

“It’s the first step in that,” explained Booth. “Let’s see how well this will work.”

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