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Moving toward mid-size: new vehicles for new needs.

More active residents. Younger, more acutely ill patients. More resident contact with the outside world. All of these trends are observable in nursing facilities that are working hard to keep up with the times. The old days of "lying-in," tying down and locking up their occupants are receding as facilities become more interested in keeping all residents, from chronic to subacute, as active and independent as possible. Among the new tools emerging to accomplish this is a transportation vehicle more spacious than a van and more flexible than a tour bus: the mid-size bus.

Defined as a passenger-carrying motor coach under 40 feet in length, less than 30,000 pounds in gross weight and accommodating 14 to 30 passengers of varying degrees of function, the mid-size bus offers versatility, convenience and ADA compliance, all of immediate concern to today's nursing homes. This emerging market, which some see growing as fast as 12% a year, has seized the attention of bus manufacturers who, as a result, founded last year the Mid-Size Bus Manufacturers Association.

Consisting of 10 companies (see list), the MSBMA is seeking to clearly define the market, devise criteria and standards to meet its needs, and inform customers on best-purchasing practices. "We know," says Thomas Ensch, MSBMA immediate past-president and president of Champion Motor Coach, Inc., "that there is a need for a specifically engineered vehicle for this market. These vehicles can no longer be offshoots of recreational vehicles which were, in turn, offshoots of motor homes. They have to accommodate the specific needs of patients, be adaptable to various patient capabilities, and yet built on a smaller-rail chassis for ease of use."

Adds Sheldon Walle, current MSBMA president and senior vice-president of Eldorado National, Inc., "There is a growing awareness of style and aesthetics, as well as vehicle durability, among residents, families and customers these days. Look at how the newest facilities are paying attention to these in their designs. It is the style to which this population has become accustomed, and facility transportation is now being designed to meet these expectations."

How, specifically, have these vehicles been adapted to meet the nursing home market's new requirements? One adaptation is track seating - allowing operators to easily remove seating out of the vehicle or fold it up to provide more room for wheelchairs. Another is streamlining of the lift mechanisms - some models, says Sheldon Walle, have "casette lifts," which slide in and out of a pocket at the mid-rear of the bus, allowing for easier use and more even weight distribution, and thus saving vehicle brakes and suspensions from uneven wear. These lifts, adds Thomas Ensch, "provide residents with a greater feeling of security in operation. We're also starting to locate them toward the front of the vehicle to avoid residents' feeling they're in 'back of the bus.'"

Still another modification involves placement of colorful visual cues within the vehicle to aid the visually impaired. "The ADA law has benefited more than wheelchair users," notes Sheldon Walle. "We now have better use of optic (i.e. bright) colors on steps and near handrails, and better lighting throughout."

The MSBMA, meanwhile, has several projects underway in hopes of improving service to customers - for example, developing construction standards to ensure that mid-size buses stay within their maximum gross weight requirements, regardless of options. Avoiding overweight will preserve the life of the bus and its components - and, in effect, will help save customers from themselves. Ensch observes that some customers, "with the best of intentions, want to overload the vehicle with options, such as luggage racks, tour bus seating, and other heavyweight add-ons, each of which adds a lot of weight and shortens the life of the bus. Our standards will help educate customers about how to specify for their needs within the weight requirements."

Walle adds that the Association is considering developing other general educational materials for distribution at tradeshows and directly to customers.

It is all part of building a market that manufacturers have just begun to recognize, and that nursing homes are helping develop every day.

Diamond Coach Corp.

Diamond Coach manufactures a full line of Vans and Mid-Size Buses for use in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

The Diamond HTV High Top Van features the extra strength of the Diamond all-honeycomb roof construction, and is available with one or two wheelchair stations. A choice of chassis and numerous standard features and options allows you to customize this van to meet your unique needs.

Champion Motor Coach Inc.

The Challenger bus model is manufactured with an all-steel frame. Champion's Steel-Card[R] construction consists of 1 1/2[inches] x 1 1/ 2[inches] steel frame in the floor, sidewalls and roof structure. A galvanized steel exterior skin covers the steel frame, for solid construction. The Ford E350 chassis powers the Challenger bus, and is available with gas and diesel engines. Automotive air conditioning, cruise control and tilt steering are just a few of the standard features. The Challenger bus comes in sizes ranging from 20[feet] to 28[feet] and can accommodate 20 to 29 passsengers. This bus can meet all the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A variety of floor plan arrangements are available to meet your needs, including a "flat floor" that eliminates the wheel wells and allows for additional wheelchair positions. Champion distributes buses through a nationwide dealer network.

ElDorado National

Since its beginnings in 1980, ElDorado National has become the largest producer of small and mid-sized buses in the commercial transportation market. Of their five distinctively different models, their Aero product line has become the product of choice for the nursing and retirement home industry. Ranging from 10- to 29-passenger capacity (excluding driver), the Aerolite, Aerotech and Aero XT all offer a full range of floorplans, optional equipment and handicapped accessibility, as well as full ADA compliance. The Aero product line has consistently been the number-one selling commercial cutaway bus in the industry over the past ten years and is the only vehicle in its class to be crash-test certified at an authorized automotive testing facility.

Goshen Coach

Goshen Coach manufactures small to midsize tour and transit buses and specializes in producing buses for physically challenged passengers. The buses can be produced with a variety of seating configurations and can be designed to accommodate eight to thirty-one passengers.

Goshen Coach offers the Pacer, Pacer LTD, GCII and Sentry models. Each model is designed to meet the different transportation requirements of each facility. Each model can be designed to incorporate a wheelchair lift, wheelchair securement positions, stretcher securement positions, ambulatory positions and jump seats.

Dodge Ram Wagon

The safe, powerful, smart choice for specialized needs, the Dodge Ram Wagon handles groups of up to 15, providing them with comfort and you with confidence. Ram Wagon's command-of-the-road seating position places the driver clearly in charge, and Magnum power takes charge of the road. Passengers can watch the view outside while enjoying the comfort of flow-through climate control, with standard rear air exhausters and optional separate rear heat and air conditioning. Entry and exit is made easy with the choice of dual or sliding side doors. Nursing homes may be eligible for Dodge's $500 cash back or a 100,000-Mile/5-Year Powertrain Service Contract. If your facility requires adaptive equipment, such as wheelchair lifts, Chrysler Corporation's Automobility program will reimburse up to $1,000.

Terra Transit/Turtle Top

As one of the oldest bus manufacturers, Terra Transit/Turtle Top has been meeting the transportation requirements of nursing homes since 1962. They offer a raised roof van and a mid-size mini-bus with passenger capacity of 15 to 28. Some of the most popular optional accessories are air conditioning, wheelchair lift, and wheelchair tiedowns. Their durable steel frame construction is backed by a five-year/75,000 mile warranty. Designed for easy accessibility, the bus can be built to meet the different requirements of each customer. Choices can be made from a variety of floor plans, seats, fabric/vinyl and colors.

Mid Bus, Inc.

The new AT (Adult Transport) for commercial applications from Mid Bus is built like no other commercial bus on the market. The AT features the industry's first standard flat-floor construction. The strong floor design allows versatile seating plans and wheelchair arrangements to fit every customer's interior bus needs. The AT is mounted on a dependable International 3400 chassis. It is available in five body sizes, with adult passenger capacities of 16 to 32. Passengers will enjoy the smooth ride and the driver will appreciate the superb handling, since the AT has a short turning radius.

World Trans, Inc.

The mid-size 1000 series bus, built by World Trans, Inc., has earned its reputation as the ultimate in nursing home transportation. Its interlocking aluminum-extruded side panels and all-aluminum frame construction create a vehicle with a combination of durability and longevity. Polyurethane foam insulation and uncompromised material use results in precision climate control, providing the utmost comfort in patient transportation. A variety of floor plans are available for seating of 14 to 25 passengers with and without wheelchairs. The UVL (Under-Vehicle Lift) option offered in the 1000 series is installed in the entrance door, eliminating the need for a dedicated lift door, thus providing maximum seating capacity. The UVL also eliminates rattles inside the bus, and provides unobstructed side window vision. A variety of other wheelchair lift and securement options are also available to meet all physically challenged patient requirements. All World Trans buses qualify for FTA funding.

Coach & Equipment Mfg. Corp.

Coach & Equipment Mfg. Corp. specializes in small-body-on-chassis buses built on Ford cutaways, with or without wheelchair lifts. The buses carry up to 25 passengers and are in full ADA compliance.

Distributor, Shepard Coach Sales maintains a running inventory of over $8,000,000 in stock buses and chassis. Many are available for immediate delivery. In addition to a variety of product options, many economical lease, finance and purchase options are available.

Evergreen Industries, Inc.

Evergreen Industries manufactures small buses for up to 15 passengers. Models available include the Pioneer, available on a single or dual-wheel Ford cutaway van; the Apollo, a raised roof van; and the Gemini, a single rear wheel bus designed for low clearance. The Evergreen Industries Pioneer is ideally suited for maneuvering on community streets, and features a spacious interior with a 28[inches]-aisle, a low-step entry, and a variety of paratransit alternatives. The Pioneer does not require the driver to have a commercial drivers license. All Evergreen Industries vehicles are manufactured to meet or exceed all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and are available for purchase through dealers nationwide.

Supreme Corporation

Supreme Corporation began bus manufacturing in 1983. The company manufactures several sizes of shuttle buses under the StarTrans name. These units are marketed throughout the United States and Canada.

Supreme's ability to be flexible enough to meet the specific needs of the most demanding customer places it in a class by itself. All units manufactured by Supreme can be ADA accessible. The responsibility to build a bus with thoughtful attention to the comfort and needs of the disabled is a top priority.

Purchasing Guidelines for Mid-Size Buses

As with any product, customer satisfaction - or lack of it - depends largely on the care and thought that goes into its purchase. With mid-size buses, there are several considerations - some tried-and-true, some new because the vehicles are new. Nursing Homes asked Thomas Ensch, president of Champion Motor Coach, Inc., and Sheldon Walle, senior vice-president of ElDorado National, to offer their respective checklists:

Ensch: "(1) Work a specific manufacturer or representative to make sure that your needs are comprehended - and rely on his or her judgment in meeting them because, while you may have purchased several vehicles, they have made hundreds.

(2) Pay special attention to weight considerations to ensure maximum life of the vehicle.

(3) Insist on components requiring minimal maintenance - for example, galvanized materials, stainless steel, powder-coated metal to resist corrosion and wear.

(4) Maintain a preventive maintenance schedule - windows and cap recaulked at specific intervals, regular replacement of engine oil and other operating fluids, lubrication and maintenance of lifts and doors.

(5) Make sure that the vehicle has track seating, the right-sized 'paratransit' door for your needs and, if possible, a diesel engine which, when properly maintained, can give you twice the life of a standard gasoline engine.

(6) Actively seek our references from other customers."

Walle: "The doors, the heating/air conditioning system and the electrical system are your three areas of greatest concern in terms of use and longevity.

Doors. Doors can be operated manually (i.e. with pushrods), electrically or with compressed air. Manual and electrical are the most dependable, and by now, electrically-operated doors are virtually a standard in the industry (though they are still officially an option). Not only are they convenient, but as opposed to manual, they keep a lot of the annoying hardware out of the way of residents getting in and out.

Heating and air conditioning. You should decide upfront: which of these will get the higher use in your area? Sizing of each of these units is variable, and in northern climates you will probably want a larger heating system, and in the south, more air conditioning. This should be specified according to your local needs, because it will make a difference to the longevity and workability of your electrical system.

Electrical system. The battery and alternator must be of appropriate size to meet your specific needs. Manufacturers offer alternators generating from 100 to 200 amperes, and the size you need depends on the use you put the vehicle to: over-the-road vs. stop-and-go, how frequently you use the life and the door, etc. Vehicles doing lots of stop-and-go may benefit from the addition of a fast-idle switch to keep the alternator generating high amperage. All of this should be discussed with a dealer who knows something about mid-size buses. And membership in the MSBMA is a good indicator of product and service quality."

Mid-Size Bus Manufacturers Association

An Industry Division of the National Truck Equipment Association

37400 Hills Tech Drive, Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3414 810/489-7090 Fax 810/489-8590

Champion Motor Coach Inc 331 Graham Rd PO Box 158 Imlay City, MI 48444 810/724-6474 Phone 810/724-1844 Fax

Coach & Equip Mfg Corp Brown Street Exit PO Box 36 Penn Yan, NY 14527 315/536-2321 Phone 315/536-0460 Fax

Diamond Coach Corp. 2300 W Fourth St PO Box 489 Oswego, KS 67356 316/795-2191 Phone 316/795-4816 Fax

ElDorado National 304 Avenue B Salina, KS 67401 913/827-1033 Phone 913/827-0965 Fax

Evergreen Industries Inc. 216 Industrial Park PO Box 685 Evergreen, AL 36401 334/578-5100 Phone 334/578-9411 Fax

Goshen Coach 1110 DI Drive Elkhart, IN 46514 219/264-7511 Phone 219/266-5866 Fax

Mid Bus Inc 505 East Jefferson Bluffton, OH 45817-1398 419/358-2500 Phone 419/358-2400 Fax

Supreme Corp StarTrans Bus Division 16500 CR 38 PO Box 463 Goshen, IN 46526 219/642-4888 Phone 219/642-4169 Fax

Terra Transit A Division of Turtle Top 67819 State Rd. 15 New Paris, IN 46553 219/831-5680 Phone 219/831-3407 Fax

World Trans Inc 1401 South Spencer Newton, KS 67114 316/283-9500 Phone 316/283-5252 Fax
COPYRIGHT 1995 Medquest Communications, LLC
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Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Special Section: Transportation; Mid-Size Bus Manufacturers Association builds mid-size buses specially adapted to nursing home needs
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Jul 1, 1995
Previous Article:A nursing home refreshing as a sauna.
Next Article:Gleanings from the new world of subacute.

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