Update on senior transportation options

Posted Jan. 06, 2009, at 6:44 p.m.

I applaud the Bangor Daily News for drawing attention to a difficult and growing problem in rural Maine: senior transportation. I must, however, take exception to some of the impressions left by the articles in the Jan. 3 edition about “Driving and Old Age.”

Our society does not value or honor our elders, but tends to view them as incompetent. I am not sure at exactly what age this incompetence begins. When I was 25, anyone over the age of 40 was “old” and anyone over the age of 60 was ancient! As we, ourselves, age, our perspective of what is “old” changes. We are all individu-als and we all age differently.

Many factors contribute to our “competence,” whatever our age. Simply being a certain age does not make us less able to drive well, and as the older driver who was quoted in your article correctly pointed out, most of the dangerous driving is done by younger and less experienced drivers.

Transportation is a major health issue as we age. And not simply because we are failing physically and need to get to medical appointments. When we are able to get out, we can be more engaged in society. We can volunteer, visit friends, go swimming or to exercise classes.

I take exception to the impression that there are “no other options” in rural Maine (quoting Dr. Allen Currie) for older people if they do not drive. There are not enough options, by any means, but there are many.

I am the executive director of Faith in Action in Ellsworth, a program that provides transportation for seniors at no charge. Volunteers give rides to medical appointments, exercise classes, the grocery store, the library, the vet; in short, we help people remain independent and able to continue living in their own homes in rural Maine. We also coordinate rides to and from cancer treatments in Bangor and even Portland.

Our service area is primarily Hancock County; however we are working in both Penobscot and Washington counties to develop similar volunteer efforts. We are fortunate to have nearly 150 volunteers; many of our volunteer drivers are seniors themselves.

There are many other examples of transportation options for seniors here in rural Maine. Older adults who have MaineCare can receive excellent transportation to medical appointments through the Washington Hancock Community Agency, or WHCA, Penquis, and other CAP agencies throughout Maine. These services also are available to the general public, and seniors can use their services to get to the grocery store as well.

Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor can help seniors find transportation resources. In Greater Bangor, there is an excellent bus system with low-cost options for seniors. Many local churches help seniors with transportation and many small towns have small groups of volunteers who help their residents with transportation. Two good examples are in Hancock County: The town of Surry has an active volunteer group who helps residents (Surry Community Improvement Association), as does the town of Bucksport (Community Cares).

While transportation does present many challenges for seniors who do not drive and for their families, there are, indeed, options available. There are not enough and they can be challenging to find. However, it can make the difference between isolation and independence. Being able to arrange your own ride rather than asking your son or daughter for help and to take time off from work also adds to independence. Getting alternative transportation does take some advance planning, and it is not as easy as just hopping in the car on a whim. With rising costs and other concerns, we all may have to change.

For easy access to information about transportation, I recommend that seniors call Eastern Area Agency on Aging (1-800-432-7812) or simply dial 211 anytime. United Way of Eastern Maine is trying to address this issue, as is Eastern Maine Medical Center with a recent forum on the topic. Often physicians are on the “front lines” and are the first source of information about alternatives to driving an automobile. We would be glad to provide a comprehensive list of transportation alternatives for seniors to medical providers.

Thank you, BDN, for helping raise awareness about this important issue.

Jo Cooper is executive director of Faith in Action in Ellsworth.

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