Transportation services for seniors under financial pressure

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Capital News Service
LANSING—For many seniors who cannot drive anymore, communities provide varied transportation services, but state budget cuts may mean fewer seniors getting out and avoid isolation.
Counties have their own ways of providing transportation.
For example, the Mecosta County Commission on Aging connects with a bus system and volunteer groups to take seniors to malls, supermarkets and appointments.
Commission director Claudia Lenon said buses go to senior buildings to pick up them.
Also, the county gives a grant to help pay for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).
“People who live in rural areas and cannot take a bus sometimes use that source, but that is a very limited transportation source,” Lenon said.
The county also offers rides to wheelchair users for medical appointments and pays drivers for that service.
“If the seniors plan a social trip, such as shopping, they are expected to donate some money because the county doesn’t have a grant to offset the cost,” Lenon said. “But for the trip used for medical purposes, there’s no fee.”
As for the impact that the state’s budget cut will bring to seniors’ service programs, Lenon said she hasn’t thought much about it because the cuts will not take effect immediately. But she has concerns that the cuts may reduce services in the future.
In Grand Traverse County, a place that attracts many retirees, it’s estimated that around one-third residents will be senior citizens by 2020.
Brandy Hansen, a clerk at the county’s Commission on Aging, said there are two transportation programs. In one, volunteers provide cars and drive seniors. In the other, contracts are made with taxi companies, home health care companies and other transportation companies, Hansen said.
“The seniors can pay only $4 to have coupons which are valued as high as $40,” Hansen said. “They can use them when taking taxis.”
Lana Patenaude, an office specialist for the commission, said senior services in the county won’t be affected by the propsed budget cuts, because all the money come from local tax.
Marquette County provides senior transportation services for people who are older than 55, said Mary Jo Greenlund, a RSVP program assistant in the county.
Greenlund said seniors are referred by a local agency. Volunteers go to seniors’ homes to pick up them, drive them to the doctor’s office and then drive them home.
“We get local donations from the county and the seniors. The money goes to pay the gas for volunteers,” Greenlund said.
Last year, the county fulfilled 664 of 694 requests for rides. Cancellations and volunteers’ unavailablility account for the unmet requests, she said.
Greenlund said since most of county is rural, seniors need those kinds of services. The services focus on medical transportation now, but there’s tremendous need for grocery shopping trips.
As for the impact of budget cuts, the county recently held a meeting for seniors and legislative liaisons to express their concerns. Participants said they worried that reduced funding and higher costs may lead to the reduction of services.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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