Study Examines Transportation Innovations for Rural Elders

Aging Today, November/December 2006 | Go to article overview

Study Examines Transportation Innovations for Rural Elders


When a small group of health professionals met in rural Maine to resolve a major transportation gap for local cancer patients, one hospital social worker described her horror on hearing that a patient had decided to have radical surgery rather than radiation. The reason: The patient had no way to make regular trips to a distant facility in her region for six weeks of treatment. That meeting in 2001 led to the creation of "the only program in the United States where the American Cancer Society is partnering with a community transportation provider to reimburse volunteers for trips," according to a new study titled Transportation innovations for Seniors: A Report From Rural America, released by the Beverly Foundation and Community Transportation Association of America.

The research involved structured interviews with 52 key informants-policymakers, researchers, technical advisers and service providers in transit and aging-plus onsite information-gathering for the report's five case studies on innovative transportation services. One of these case studies was the York County Community Action Corporation Transportation Program, Sanford, Maine, which developed the American Cancer Society partnership. The report also describes four other transportation innovators for elders-programs based in Spearfish, S.D., Columbia, Mo., Wichita, Kan., and Austin, Texas.

A DRAMATIC IMPACT

"Older adults who live in rural America have a variety of transportation needs for destination travel," said Helen Kerschner, president and CEO of the Beverly Foundation. She explained, "However, when they no longer drive, they often are dependent on community-based transportation options. Frailty, poverty and lack of family support can have a dramatic impact on their ability to access the options that are available."

The report echoes Kerschner's assertion: "When a woman is 90 she may not be able to get to the bus and wait for it. A person who has limited income may not be able to afford a car or be stranded when their ambulance trip to emergency medical service is denied. Family and community social supports may be absent or there may be no nonworking relatives. …

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