Transportation on the comeback for Interior seniors
April 1, 2022 | View PDF
Ride sharing and van service for older adults in Alaska has taken a terrible beating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many transportation services in much of the state were cut back or eliminated. Now, as the pandemic is winding down, ride services are returning.
Fairbanks Senior Center Executive Director Darlene Supplee, executive director said the pandemic changed the center’s operations and how ride requests were handled. Many older adults were unable to go to and from their medical appointments.
“Now, we are moving back to congregate meals on April 15,” Supplee said. “Prior to the pandemic, we did door-to-door service starting at 7 a.m. and mostly focusing on doctor appointments and grocery stores.”
Currently, it is uncertain when the Fairbanks Senior Center will be offering transportation because all of their transportation funds went to Meals on Wheels during the pandemic, Supplee said. However, the center hopes that in May, if enough funding is available, it will begin to offer some transportation. It also hopes to start a transportation service in Delta Junction, primarily for going to and from the doctor’s office. “So, it is a large undertaking for us,” said Supplee. “There is a huge need throughout the state.”
Supplee said that due to the pandemic there is no longer door-to-door service in many cities in Alaska and on top of that there are long waits where service is being offered.
“They need to fund more. We need to do some creating out-of-the-box for this. It may be getting volunteers to help with taking people back and forth for their doctor’s appointment,” said Supplee, who has been with the Senior Center for nine years. “You really have to invest in what seniors need and that is door-to-door. Here in the Interior, we are experiencing some very serious weather changes. So, it makes it all more perilous.”
To access service and make an appointment, you may contact the Fairbanks Senior Center at 907-452-1735 or https://fairbanksseniorcenter.org/; or the Fairbanks Van Tran paratransit system, 907-459-1010. Website: http://www.fnsb.gov/369/Van-Tran.
Rebuilding in Nenana
Some cities in Alaska are changing their transportation programs as they adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic. Vickie Moyle is the Executive Director of the Nenana Senior Center and it offers nutrition, transportation and support services.
“We provide both congregate and home delivered meals Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week. Transportation is provided to and from the meals, as well as to the local post office, store, and local clinic on those days,” said Moyle.
Once a week, the Nenana Senior Center schedules trips to Fairbanks for shopping and medical appointments. Recreational trips, such as going to restaurants for meals are also scheduled at clients’ requests if funding allows. It also coordinates the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) for the Fairbanks Food Bank. Food boxes can be picked up at the center on the last Friday of each month.
Nenana Senior Center also has a fee agent on site and can assist with Division of Public Assistance applications, walking individuals through the process of applying for financial assistance. Appointments are required. “Support services include, but are not limited to, helping clients apply for any programs they may be eligible to receive. Resource and referral services are available,” said Moyle, who has been the center’s director since 2005.
Moyle said there are no seasonal differences in delivery of services. The meal schedule stays the same all year round. However, the center provides more bus trips in the warmer months when the roads are clear and the weather permits. In March, a bus trip was offered to Clear Sky Lodge for dinner. Other planned trips include the Hilltop, and the Pagoda restaurant in North Pole this spring.
With help from grants from the Dept. of Transportation and Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA), the center recently purchased a new agency bus that seats 12 with an additional two seats for wheelchairs, Moyle said. She said GVEA is to be commended for its continued support of the center and the services it provides to Nenana and the surrounding area.
“For those of our people who do not drive at any time of the year, they all express appreciation for the available services that allow them to get to the local post office, to meals, and to the local clinic.”
The center has been delivering services for 44 years and it is rebounding well after this latest wave of COVID-19, Moyle said. “Our services are client directed. The members of our board of directors attend the senior center regularly, volunteer, and are readily available to the members. During the pandemic, we reduced the number of clients on bus trips to allow more social distancing and continue to do so at this time.”
State level support
The state Division of Senior and Disabilities Services (DSDS) partners with several organizations and helps with a variety of transportation services. It funds transportation services for senior centers and municipalities that are serving seniors and people with disabilities.
“Most providers shut down their transportation services almost entirely initially during the pandemic,” said DSDS Director John Lee. “They then adapted to social distancing recommendations by transporting fewer or even single people at a time in their buses and vans.” Lee said transportation services are critical to older adults in all of Alaska. A significant percentage of older adults cannot avail themselves of basic services without transportation. They cannot go to the grocery store or the post office or the pharmacy and all that entails for daily living. Lee said they cannot get medical care or meals at the senior center, and even worse they cannot continue to be active in their communities.
“The Older Americans Act has been funding transportation services since at least 2003. The demand for transportation is increasing. The number of older adults is growing, and they are remaining active and in their communities longer. They may not want to drive at night or in inclement weather, but they still need to get around in their communities,” said Lee.
Further, he said the populations are growing in suburban communities where there are no organized or funded transportation systems. However, the COVID pandemic brought additional funding to many providers to help them upgrade their vehicle fleets. It is hoped that many transportation systems now will be reconstructed and improve over the six to 12 months.