Getting seniors to where they need to go | SierraSun.com

Getting seniors to where they need to go

Sierra Countis
Sierra Sun

Senior citizens living in Truckee are finding it difficult to get where they need to go. The loss of Gold Country Telecare , which provided transportation outside of town, has left no other service to drive seniors to specialized medical appointments or special events out of the area.

Gold Country Telecare lost its funding and volunteer base a couple years ago, said Susan Healy-Harman, executive director.

Melanie Kauffman, executive director of the Truckee Tahoe Seniors Council, said there is a huge need for senior transportation. The Senior Council met with other community leaders including the Town of Truckee and the Tahoe Forest Hospital to discuss what options they had in order to offer accessible transportation for seniors.

Kauffman said several planning meetings were held in 2005 to talk about the town’s options.

The challenge of getting a wheelchair accessible van for seniors still exists, mostly due to lack of funding for vehicles. Kauffman said the Senior Center has no access to government funding, making the possibility of buying vans that much more difficult.

“It’s a big program to operate,” Kauffman said. “No one had the capacity to step into [Gold Country Telecare’s] role at that specific time.”

The town currently relies on Dial-a-Ride vehicles for local transportation. However, the service only runs five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. leaving time constraints

on what kind of errands seniors need to run.

Kristy Champagne, activities coordinator for Tahoe Forest Hospital’s Long Term Care Center, said Dial-a-Ride doesn’t provide adequate service for seniors because it’s not a flexible form of transportation. Knowing how much seniors want to be able to be mobile, Champagne said she spearheaded an effort to get transportation for her long-term patients at the hospital when Gold Country Telecare ended its services.

“I basically took it as a challenge to myself to get these guys transportation,” Champagne said.

Prepared with months of research about four-wheel-drive, wheelchair accessible vans and input from her patients, Champagne presented her case to the hospital CEO and the Senior Council. She said she was able to secure the purchase of the $26,950 van when Lahontan Community Foundation gave her a $10,000 grant, with the hospital footing the rest of the bill.

Champagne and two others from the extended care center have been driving its patients in the van since January 2006. Destinations include Reno for dialysis treatments, Long’s Drugs in town for shopping, and fishing trips to Lake Tahoe.

Champagne said the patients’ attitudes change entirely once they are able to be mobile and make plans to go places.

Besides giving seniors shopping excursions the van provides emergency transportation for patients, she said. Champagne said that when a complication occurred during a patient’s eye surgery immediate transportation to see a specialist in Davis was needed. The van was there to get the patient the emergency care he needed.

Without the van an ambulance, taxi service or a family member would have been the only other options, she said.

Kauffman said the Senior Center relies on volunteers to give seniors rides when they don’t have family or friends in the area to drive them by coordinating schedules or offering rides themselves, as she has done in the past.