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Pilot Flying J – UrgentCare clinics taking sting out of truck drivers getting to the doctor

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Sometimes it’s so difficult for truck drivers to get seen by a doctor they get in the habit of ignoring their health problems altogether, half hoping their hectic lifestyle doesn’t catch up with them.

But it is catching up with them, according to one clinic’s findings from professional truck drivers’ DOT physicals.

Mitch Strobin of UrgentCare Travel clinics said of the more than 15,000 truck drivers who have had physicals at their facilities, about half have pre-existing hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, making it necessary for their medical cards to be issued for only a year or less rather than two years. Those results “tell us these are the conditions afflicting most drivers … unmanaged they become worse and worse.”

Started in 2014, there currently are seven UrgentCare clinics at Pilot Flying J truck stops and by this time next year there will be 25, said Strobin, vice president of service management. Eight are being added the first half of this year.

The current seven are Baytown, Texas (I-10, Exit 789); Cartersville, Georgia (I-75, Exit 296); Dallas (I-20, Exit 472); Fontana, California (I-10, Exit 64, at South Sierra Plaza); Knoxville, Tennessee (I-40, Exit 398); Oklahoma City (I-40, Exit 140); and Ruther Glen, Virginia (I-95, Exit 104).

Each clinic is 900 square feet with three exam rooms, “a full-blown clinic,” Strobin said.

Their development was a combination of UrgentCare Travel and Pilot Flying J seeing the need for drivers to have access to convenient and affordable health care with plenty of truck parking, he said.

“We’ve tried to do a clinic before but UrgentCare was the only provider to step up and grow the clinics. Obviously there’s a big need,” said Scott Klepper, senior manager of facility revenue for Pilot Flying J. “Our primary customers are the professional drivers. UrgentCare is a way to provide for them and our employees and the community at large, [those] who don’t have access to health care otherwise.”

The big picture is that at a time when hiring and retaining good drivers is crucial, untreated medical conditions can mean the end of a driver’s career.

“I just want to say I’m healthy because of your help,” wrote one truck driver who signed up for the health-care services. “I won’t beat around the bush — you all are saving my life.”

Drivers who join the UrgentCare health network pay a flat monthly rate with no copay and no deductible. And, walk-ins are perfectly acceptable as it’s understood that it’s between difficult and impossible for drivers to know when they’ll have time to get in.

Strobin said estimates are that getting drivers regular checkups and health care will save the trucking industry one billion dollars a year.

And it’s not just the drivers, their families are impacted by their health, he said, as are their carriers.

The program encourages frequent visits to the clinic so drivers can get pre-existing conditions treated and be prepared for their next DOT physical.

A reasonable flat monthly fee is working better than saddling drivers with deductibles or copays, Strobin said.

“Many don’t have health insurance and every visit is out of pocket.” Or, they have insurance but can’t afford the deductible.

Each clinic has a DOT-certified nurse practitioner and a medical assistant who provide not just physicals but all primary care services such as routine illnesses like colds and flu plus cuts, abrasions, muscle strains and other things that can result in the course of a driver’s workday.

The clinics are the first line of defense for work-related injuries, many of which can be handled as a matter of administering first-aid, not necessarily as a workman’s comp claim.

“Everything defaulting to workman’s comp doesn’t need to be the case,” Strobin said.

Drivers can walk in and request a physical, with most taking about 30 minutes.

But it’s not just a process where the driver is in and out, Strobin said. Medical staff “take pride in talking to the driver.” Since about half have pre-existing conditions the physician can discuss the next steps in managing the driver’s condition and how to take care of themselves over the long term.

Drivers are appreciative of being listened to, he said. “They know they can talk with the same provider every time. They can come in and talk face to face, get advice, get a [health] plan. It’s respect.”

For families that live near the clinic, they also can get their health needs taken care of.

“It’s very much taking care of our guests,” Klepper said, with Strobin adding, “that’s the beauty of the partnership. It benefits the entire industry.”

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The Nation

Bill to prevent shutdown has benefits for USDOT

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The legislative deal passed to prevent a government shutdown contains $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund. (AASHTO Journal)

WASHINGTON — As part of bicameral legislative deal to prevent a second partial federal government shutdown while providing monies to build a wall along parts of the southern U.S. border, a total of $26.5 billion in discretionary funds and $60 billion from Highway and Airport and Airway Trust Funds will be provided to the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to an article in the Journal, a publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The legislative deal passed both the Senate and the House by wide margins.

This legislation also contains final funding for a series of fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills for nine federal departments and related agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Some of the USDOT appropriations measure include:

  • $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund.
  • Of that $3.25 billion in supplemental highway funding from the general fund, roughly $2.7 billion will be apportioned to the states as if it were Surface Transportation Block Grant Program funding, while $475 million will be for a Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement program.
  • $900 million for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD discretionary grant program grants, divided evenly between rural and urban projects.
  • $2.55 billion for the Capital Investment Grant program, including $1.27 billion for “new starts,” $635 million for “core capacity” and $527 million for “small starts.”

“This legislation makes a significant down payment on the border wall and provides a bipartisan path forward to complete the remaining FY19 spending bills,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

“Our bipartisan efforts have been essential in securing the passage of this bill and completing the FY19 appropriations process,” he said. “It is my hope that we will all continue to work together as we turn to the FY20 appropriations bills.”

“This is not the agreement I would have reached on my own [as] there are things in this bill that I support, and things that I disagree with – but that is the nature of a negotiation,” said Ranking Member Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “This agreement funds nine federal departments and their related agencies. Everyone had to give something to reach a bipartisan compromise.”

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Driver Ronald Feimster hopes to take the freedom of the road to the next level in 2019  

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Ronald Feimster tried working in other kinds of jobs, but he found he likes the freedom and independence truck driving offers. His goal for 2019 is to get his own truck and become an owner-operator. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

You don’t head out on the road without an intended destination, and the vast majority of the time you have a route planned out. And it’s not a bad idea to approach life goals the same way.

Ronald Feimster has begun 2019 with a clear idea of where he wants to get to within the next year.

“My goal is to be an owner-operator and to drive for Oakley Trucking,” he said.

Feimster was finishing breakfast at the Iron Skillet at the TravelCenters of America/Petro truck stop at I-40, exit 161, just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. He’d struck up a conversation with a fellow driver, Tim Plubell, who’s been an owner-operator for nearly 20 years (A story about Plubell can be found in the XXX edition of The Trucker), so Feimster’s career goals were at the front of his mind when The Trucker caught up with him.

He’s done his homework, he said. He knows a lot goes into being an owner-operator.

“I drove for a lease operator before,” Feimster said. “He was the owner-operator. And I loved it. I loved the freedom of it. I know you have to pay for your own maintenance, but a lot of these companies nowadays, they help you with the maintenance, so that cuts that in half. Then you have that fuel surcharge, so that cuts that in half.”

Feimster, who hails from Rogers, Arkansas, has also done his homework on Oakley Trucking, a subsidiary of Bruce Oakley Inc., a commodity trading, distribution and transportation company based in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Oakley Trucking specializes dry bulk transportation throughout the Lower 48 and Canada.

“And Oakley, they pay excellent, but the catch is you have to own your own truck,” Feimster said. “Pull their trailers, but you own your own truck. That’s my goal.”

Long-term, he said, at 47, if all goes as he’s envisioning it, if he gets in at Oakley, it could be the kind of situation where he could spend the rest of his career there.

Not that he’s unhappy where he’s at. Feimster drives for Southern Refrigerated Transport, popularly known as SRT.

“They’re a good company,” Feimster said. “I’d recommend them to anybody.”

He runs a dedicated route pulling reefer for Tyson Foods. His route keeps him within the neighboring states of Arkansas. But, as he explained, he generally gets home about every three weeks.

“I could get home every weekend, but you don’t make any money like that,” he said. “You have to stay out here for a little while. Unless I were an owner-operator. Then I would do it differently.”

Feimster first got into trucking in 1998. Before that, he said, “I wasn’t really doing nothing.” In other words, he had jobs, but he didn’t have a career. “I was doing factory work. It wasn’t that good. So, I got into trucking, basically, to start making more money. I went ahead and got my CDL.”

He started out hauling logs. Since then he’s “been around,” he said, gaining experience working for Panther 2, Swift Transportation and Covenant Transport, which owns SRT.

At one point, he tried to get out of trucking. “I was over-the-road, and I was tired of going through those snowy mountains” in Colorado, he said. The job wasn’t worth risking his life.

“I said, ‘I have got to get out of this,’ because I had just gotten married, and then we had our first child. I’ve got to go home and be a dad,” Feimster said.

He went back to warehouse work and even became a supervisor. But he came to realize that he just wasn’t a company-culture kind of guy. One of the best things about truck driving, Feimster said, is there’s “no one breathing over your back.” Even after having been the one doing the breathing, he hates that kind of work environment.

He said he didn’t want to publicly describe the straw that broke the camel’s back and sent him to trucking. The short version of the story is he was told to fire an employee that he firmly believed didn’t deserve it.

“I said, ‘you know what? This is not a good way to treat people,’” he said. “That was enough for me. I talked to my old lady. I said, ‘I’m going to go back to truck driving.’ She said ‘OK, that’s what you want to do?’ I said I was going to be away from home, but our kids are grown. Everything’s fine. She said go for it. Here I am.”

Trucking may not be perfect, but he needs to feel that independence.

Sure, there are a few ways the job could be better. “We would like more pay,” he said, then quickly added, “who wouldn’t?”

It also bothers him that society in general doesn’t value what truckers do.

“If trucks stopped delivering for just a couple days, the country would come to a standstill,” he said. “Why isn’t the profession held in higher regard?”

Well, there isn’t a whole lot he can do about that. He appreciates what the profession means to him, and he intends to make the most of it.

 

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A driver for 45 years, a husband for 44, Tim Plubell’s life is cruising comfortably along

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Tim Plubell started driving a log truck when he was 18, and for nearly 20 of the 45 years he’s been a professional truck driver, he’s been an owner-operator. The freedom and independence are what make it the perfect profession for him. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

One of the most accurate measures of how much a fellow’s age has distilled into wisdom is the degree to which he has learned to make life easy on himself. It can be in the way he does his job, knowing the best routes to take, the best places to stop. And it can show itself in the way he takes in the world.

At the age of 63 and with 45 years on the road, Tim Plubell has a personality as mellow as if it had been aged in an oak cask. On January 2, he was having breakfast at the Iron Skillet at the Petro Stopping Center off Interstate 40, exit 161, The Trucker’s favorite haunt for meeting drivers.

Plubell was a bit amused.  He said he’d read something on the internet about someone trying to organize a truckers’ shutdown for one reason or another.

“I thought, I do that every few weeks,” he said. “Whenever I go home I shut down for a week. I’m able to do that now.”

Home for Plubell is Frenchville, a little community of about 500 in central Pennsylvania. He was headed back east after dropping off a load in Oklahoma City. That’s about as far west as he goes anymore, he said. In 2019, he’ll have been an owner-operator for 20 years, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I work for myself, I do what I want to when I want to,” he said. “Mainly I just like being out by myself. I’m kind of a loner person.” But as he sees it, that’s one of the qualities that makes a person suited for trucking. It’s suited him his entire working life.

“I’ve been driving since I was 18,” Plubell said. “I started driving a log truck for my uncle.” He continued doing that until his uncle retired and closed his business. From there, Plubell became a company driver until 1999, when he was able to buy a truck and go out on his own.

He’s always liked the driving life, but it’s best as an owner-operator. “I got nobody breathing down my back; I got nobody forcing me to do anything I don’t want to do. That’s what I like about it.”

The only down side, as he sees it, is the amount of time he has to spend away from home to make the money he wants to make. Take this past week, for example. He was home for Christmas, but then he left the day after, and he and his wife wound up spending New Year’s Eve apart.

But even that cloud has a silver lining, he explained. A lot of relationships might be strained from spending so much time apart. Not so for Plubell and his wife, who got married about a year after he started driving for his uncle.

“When I started driving it was good for a while,” he said, referring to married life. “I was home every night. But then … being we got married young, we began fighting about a lot of stuff.” Money was the most frequent topic of conflict, as he recalls, as the young couple struggled to adapt to adult responsibilities.

“So, then I got the opportunity to go over-the-road,” he said. After that, “everything got a whole lot better. The money issues went away, and then we got along better.”

It wasn’t just the money, he said. The time apart made them value the time together even more.

Plubell said he tries to get home every weekend, though it doesn’t always pan out. That’s why he doesn’t venture any farther west than Oklahoma City. And except to get home to Frenchville, he pretty much confines his driving to the Southeast this time of year. Driving in northern winter weather isn’t worth the hassle.

It’s not that he doesn’t trust his own ability. It’s the other drivers out there, the amateurs. “Ninety percent of them that pass you are on this,” he said, holding up his cellphone.

After 45 years, he has a spotless accident record, and he’d just as soon keep it that way.

Aside from sharing the road with drivers who seem to be getting more distracted and discourteous as the years go by, the one other thing that Plubell thinks has gotten worse over the years has been all the regulations truckers have to contend with now.

“I mean, there’s a lot of pros and cons about this ELD that’s come out,” he said. “Me, I don’t mind it. It doesn’t bother me, I can work with it.” But like with a vast majority of drivers, the problem is the rigidity of the rules the ELD is there to log.

For example, a couple of months ago he was making his way home and he hit one construction zone after another. As a result, his clock ran out about 15 minutes from home. Now, in the old days, a driver could say, what the heck, drive the extra 15 minutes, massage the log entry, and who did it hurt, really?

Instead, he had to park the truck, call his son to come get him, and then go back the next morning and get his truck. What sense does that make?

Plubell doesn’t know if he’ll ever fully retire. He has a friend who’s little older than he is who has become a little choosier about how far and how often he drives, and he figures he might follow that example.

Trucking isn’t for everyone, he said, but when it is, it’s tough to imagine not ever doing it.

“I love it,” he said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

 

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