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For seniors at home, getting around is the chief concern

We all know that being able to drive is an important aspect of independence, often eagerly anticipated in early teens long before the time we are eligible to get a state driver’s license. In later life, however, the thought and then often the reality of losing that ability to go anywhere we want causes concern.

I am pleased to participate in this discussion about transportation in our eastern Monadnock area because the need for rides represents nearly half of the requests for services from members of Monadnock at Home. As a volunteer driver as well as a member enjoying aging in my own place, I understand how transportation contributes to the delicate balance between safety and independence.

Our 87 Monadnock at Home member households represent 127 individuals residing in Harrisville, Dublin, Hancock, Peterborough, New Ipswich, Jaffrey, Rindge and Fitzwilliam. We rely on the resources of many partners in the region to help provide safe, healthy and more independent living in our own homes, but transportation is the biggest single need.

Monadnock at Home members make one central phone call to our executive director to set in motion the procedures required to meet requests for medical or dental appointments, as well as rides for grocery shopping. In collaboration with the American Red Cross a volunteer driver is assigned for the day, and time and dependable door-to-door service results. As an Red Cross certified driver for over 12 years, I can attest to the satisfaction of helping folks get to rehab appointments in a safe and timely fashion. I enjoy the chats with riders, help them with walkers and opening doors, and often find activities in the vicinity of the appointment so I can be present for pickup and delivery back home. As a Monadnock at Home volunteer, I am able to help bring in the groceries and may even stay for other small chores, which help out my fellow member.

I recognize the difficulty most non-members have if family is not nearby and friends are not available to provide these vital services. Obviously as a rural area we lack the convenient public transportation of more urban areas. Executive Director of Monadnock at Home Cindy Bowen reports, “There is a negative impact on our members and many others in regard to long distance travel...not just medical appointments, but rides to the airports or the inability to easily access a train to visit family and friends. Even with the volunteer transportation that Monadnock at Home provides, members are often unable to attend local social events....the Players, concerts, visiting friends, etc.”

Gary Welch, coordinator of transportation at the Red Cross, and other partners such as Home Health and Community Services, have made major strides in improving the network for longer-distance rides to the Veteran’s Administration in White River and Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon, providing vehicles and volunteer drivers several days a week.

Many transportation issues are being tackled by the Monadnock Regional Coordinating Council for Community Transportation. Public and private partners have been working with the State Coordinating Council to develop a coordinated system to meet a multiplicity of citizen needs in balance with funds available.

Discussions I have participated in include issues of infrastructure, gas prices, cost and maintenance of vehicles, repair of roads and bridges, training and vetting of drivers, environmental sensitivity, liability, as well as organizational structure at local, state and federal levels.

For the future, it is hoped that the growing numbers of boomers joining the retired and “young-old” population will become a volunteer driver force to keep up with ever growing needs for door-to-door personalized transportation, easing the burdens on caregivers and adding quality of life to older rural residents living at home.

Owen R. Houghton of Jaffrey is an aging wellness educator, past chair of the State Committee on Aging and a member of Monadnock at Home. He is a volunteer driver for the American Red Cross. Readers may contact him at nohoughton@myfairpoint.net.

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