By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Half of non-drivers who are 65 and older stay home because they lack transportation options, according to www.seniorliving.org.
This means that they may become more and more isolated, not buy fresh groceries as often as they need them and miss medical appointments.
But groups in the Rochester area are working to change this, especially in outlying areas without public transportation and for people who struggle to afford paying for transportation.
Lifespan’s Mary Rose McBride said that lack of transportation is a top issue for older adults. “Women outlive their ability to drive by about 10 years,” she said. “Many older adults live in areas not served by public transportation.”
A decade ago, Lifespan started Give a Lift, a program that recruits, screens and trains drivers who volunteer at local organizations that offer free or low-cost transportation to seniors who need to get to medical appointments. The demand for rides is so large that some ride services don’t take seniors on shopping trips or other errands to ensure that riders can make it to medical appointments.
Lifespan also provides information about transportation options in an area. McBride said about 350 to 400 volunteer drivers provide rides through various organizations after Lifespan’s screening. But as these drivers age out or move away, the organizations in the area constantly need more drivers.
The cost for a taxi ride round trip in Rochester can be around $30 or $40 — money that is needed to purchase medication or fill up a grocery cart for many seniors. Services such as Uber or Lyft may cost less; however McBride said that “a lot of older adults don’t have smartphones. There’s also a trust issue there. Would you want to get in a car with someone you don’t know?”
Volunteer drivers can sign up for a federal program that offers supplemental auto insurance if their own policy won’t cover passengers sufficiently. Most organizations offer volunteer drivers a small stipend to help with gas costs if they need it.
Medical transportation also provides “a social outlet for the volunteer and the person getting picked up,” McBride said. “They can have some conversation and may even become friends.”
She encourages social groups such as churches or clubs to consider non-emergency medical driving for a local program as a volunteer initiative.
Project Friends In Service Here (FISH) in Rush/Henrietta serves people 65-plus who live in that school district and lack transportation to and from non-emergency medical appointments. Coordinator Audrey Buck said that FISH is “always looking for more volunteers. It’s a vital service that means a lot to the people who receive help.”
FISH cannot provide rides to people who live outside the Rush-Henrietta School District, but can transport those residing within the district to medical appointments within Monroe County. Like most similar organizations, volunteers drive their own vehicles and riders must be capable of walking, yet without transportation of their own.
Last year, FISH provided round-trip rides to more than 1,600 appointments among 35 volunteers who drove nearly 40,000 miles.
“When we formed FISH, our intention is that we wanted people to be healthier and give them some sense of being independent,” Buck said. “Many people do have family in the area; however, they’re working. It’s hard for them to take them to the appointments.”
Some older adults need rides to see multiple specialists for chronic conditions. Or they may need multiple rides to address an acute issue, such as the up to 10 rides for cataract treatment, including pre-op visits, lens fitting, surgeries and post-op care.
Volunteer drivers list times and days they’re available and any limitations about going into the city.
“Our drivers all find it very satisfying and rewarding helping someone else,” Buck said.
For those who need to get to a grocery store, Buck recommends checking with a local senior center. The Henrietta Senior Center, for example, offers scheduled rides to shopping venues and can arrange for transportation to and from the center.
Episcopal Senior Life
Episcopal SeniorLife Communities in Rochester also partners with Give a Lift to offer free rides to ESLC neighborhood program members, though donations are appreciated for those able to give.
“Our vision is to help connect seniors with their neighborhood by providing transportation to community functions, social events and medical and other personal appointments, providing more options for seniors to age in their place of choice,” said Jennifer Rougeux, volunteer coordinator at Episcopal SeniorLife.
The program is currently being offered in Gates, Chili, Greece and Rochester’s South Wedge.
Rougeux views volunteer drivers as essential to maintaining independence for those who can no longer drive.
“They are connecting with and helping neighbors live healthier lives,” she added. “Volunteers also gain a sense of purpose by providing this ever important service, meet interesting people, and oftentimes develop friendships.”
Getting a Free Ride
• For more information on ride services for older adults in the Rochester area, call TRAC at 585-244-8400.
• Henrietta Senior Center: 585-334-4030.
• Visit www.eldersource.org for a list of ride resources or contact your county’s Department of Aging and Youth:
– Wayne County: 315-946-5624
– Ontario County: 585-396-4040 or 315- 781-1321
– Monroe County: 585-753-6280