MENANDS –With one in every five Americans being older than 65 by 2020, our nation’s population is aging faster.It is a national trend with very local implications.
The provision of safe and accessible transportation options remains a top concern of older adults, caregivers, and the communities where they live.
This fall, Colonie Senior Services Centers, Inc., a local non profit organization, applied for a grant to assess and address the needs of two specific areas in the community; Menands and Watervliet.
“Lots of new people have moved to Menands. And with that there are new seniors that need service. It is an apparent need,” CSSC Executive Director Diane Conroy-LaCivita said. “When westarted providing transportation for seniors, there were more options for vital and social rides. Now, there are less providers and even more need.”
The U.S. is a highly mobile culture, valuing the independence to go where and when you want to go. According to Conroy-LaCivita, as people age, the impact of having to “give up the keys” is a major, often negative, life event, but the impact can be lessened considerably if alternatives are readily available and accessible.
“Older adults find themselves looking at the big white elephant in the room, I can’t drive anymore,” She said. “It is the hardest thing to give up their keys because they feel they are giving up their independence.”
Accessible transportation services are critical for enabling older adults to live independently. According to AARP, the vast majority of older adults, nearly 90 percent, choose to age in place in their homes and communities.
Successful community living requires access to medical and other essential services. While the health impacts of reduced access to needed medical services is obvious, social isolation due to a lack of transportation can have an equally negative effect on health and mental health. Without accessible, reliable, and affordable transportation, many more older adults could face the possibility of increased physical and mental health risks, Conroy-LaCivita said.
Albany County provides funding for CSSC to transport those in need who are more than 60 years old, to vital services such as medical appointments, senior day care and weekly shopping, but it does not cover rides for other purposes.
Transportation is one of the most common supports provided by family caregivers. Still, older adults who live a long distance from family or who need frequent rides depend on more formal services to meet their needs. Community transportation options are often creative solutions meant to fill identified gaps. Such programs are typically funded with a combination of federal, state and local funds. The Federal Transit Administration’s Section 5310 Program and Title III B of the Older Americans Act are two federal funding sources that frequently support such programs.
The CSSC survey is to find what the true needs are in Menands and Watervliet.
“Our goal is to apply for an implementation grant and then provide more transportation in those two zip codes and develop a way to sustainability,” Conroy-LaCivita said. “Dispite what people may think, transportation of this sort is not a money maker.”
Especially hard hit with the reduction of transportation providers are people who are mobility impared, like those in wheelchairs or use walkers.It is hard for them to get to a bus line or to find vehicles that can accommodate their mobility equipment.
Colonie Senior Services currently has a fleet of 12 vehicles to provide transportation, 10 buses and two vans. The vehicles must be able to accommodate handicaped people and Conroy-Lacivita is concerned about having the capacity to meet the growing need.
“It is simply expanding what we can do with our transportation,” she said. “We have new buses coming from state and federal grants, but we will end up with only about 15 after we retire a few older buses.”
CSSC provides rides each year to more than 25,000 adults older than age 60 in the Capital District. The agency asks for donations from riders, but does not require payment.
“We do have a suggested donation of $5, but what we get, due to what people can pay, averages $2 per ride,” she said. “If we do get a donation, we have to back it out of subsidy from the county.”
The donation per trip is significantly less than the cost of the driver, vehicle, and fuel.
A community-based not-for-profit, CSSC uses funding like FTA Section 5310 to procure new vehicles to support the needs of surrounding communities. Presently, CSSC is calling all older adults, age 60+ who reside in zip codes 12189 and 12204 to express their transportation needs by participating in a survey from National Aging and Disability Transportation Center.
The survey results impact older adult’s equity and accessibility to transportation through proposed grant funding.
“Let your voice be heard. Your input is important to helping grass-roots organizations, like CSSC, continue to be leaders who support the needs of older adults in the Capital Region,” Conroy-LaCivita said.
All responses to the survey are anonymous and participants can visit \colonieseniors.org/survey-form/ or stop by the Beltrone Living Center at 6 Winners Circle to complete the survey form.