Senior Transportation program in need of financial lift

The Senior Transportation Program (STP) is celebrating its 10-year mark.

The idea of the program began with a Bridgton resident, who wanted to solve the problem of senior transportation needs for medical appointments.

STP is a grassroots, volunteer-based not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization wherein volunteer drivers (generally retired seniors themselves) using their own vehicles, donate their time to transport senior and disabled citizens to and from doctor, pharmacy and medical facilities. Drivers provide through-the-door service, meaning “hands-on” service, escorting the client into the facility and making sure they get to exactly where they need to be. STP travels to medical facilities within the Lake Region as well as Portland, Scarborough, Falmouth, Lewiston, Auburn, Norway and North Conway, N.H.

Since its beginnings, the program has driven over a half million miles and served some 750 residents in over 13 towns of the general Lake Region area. Although Medicare-supported transportation programs exist, they require the client having MaineCare as their primary insurance carrier. Many seniors in need of transportation did not qualify for state-supported transportation programs.

Transportation for seniors is a critical, national issue. There is no national or state funding available for this growing group. Given the aging of the “Baby Boomers,” this concern is going to grow exponentially over the coming decades. STP has already driven 37,000 miles over the past six months. At first glance, it doesn’t sound like a big problem, but in fact, large numbers of seniors, due to lack of transportation, forego, postpone or ignore their medical needs. SPT literally provides a means to improve the general welfare of, the longevity of and the lifesaving of the population’s most deserving citizens.

Organizations that STP affiliates with include the American Cancer Society of Maine, Patrick Dempsey Center, Agency on Aging, Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, Maine Medical Cancer Institute, Maine Colorectal Cancer Control Program and the entire southern Maine hospitals.

Social workers, patient advocates and nurses from these organizations call on STP to help with transportation for their clients.

STP is funded four ways.

• The program coordinator solicits funding from charitable organizations through grant writing requests.

• Local township governments, within the areas served, are solicited for donations based on the number of their citizens served.

• Clients make subsidized, affordable donations to the program on a per-ride basis, which is pro-rated in accordance with the distance traveled.

• The program accepts tax-deductible donations from all concerned citizens.

Towns which have supported STP include Bridgton, Fryeburg, Lovell, Naples, Sebago, Waterford and Brownfield. There are a couple of towns that contributed in the past, but have been apparently unable to do so recently.

Charitable organizations which have historically and generously contributed to the program include the Narragansett Number One Foundation, the Simmons Foundation and the Maine Cancer Foundation. Funds from MCF are specifically used in support of cancer patients.

STP is facing a serious financial crunch. For several years, STP received a sizable contribution from a charitable organization that had been a lynchpin — the donation that topped off the STP budget and allowed the organization to grow a little, do a little more, take care of more seniors. Unfortunately, STP lost this funding during the recent grant cycle (every one is competing for the same charitable dollar) and is now floundering. Additionally, STP lost the support of one town.

STP officials are concerned that the program may have to restrict its boundaries, meaning that STP may not be able to afford to help residents of towns that don’t provide financial assistance. It’s difficult enough to say, “We don’t have enough drivers available for that day. Can you reschedule your appointment?” Imagine having to say, “I’m sorry, but we can’t help you at all.”

This is the first year STP has run into a funding problem. Given the rapidly aging “Boomers,” STP numbers are increasing dramatically. Consider if you will, the phone call from a senior diagnosed with prostate cancer, who lives in Waterford and needs to get to Lewiston for daily radiation treatments over a seven-week period, in the middle of winter. That’s 35 trips! Family and friends work. They cannot take that kind of time off. Who is going to help? STP does.

So where does the money go? One might ask. There is no office or receptionist; neither are there any employees. STP has only $1,000 in assets (computer, printer, phone and office supplies). When one calls the STP number, it rings a phone with an answering machine in the basement of the coordinator’s house next to the fish tank. He checks messages throughout the day, makes confirming callbacks and schedules appointments with available drivers.

The coordinator receives a very modest stipend for this service, but is otherwise content to provide service to the senior community. He burns up about 30 hours each week scheduling, tracking data, writing grant proposals and being of good cheer on the phone with folks who, as well as needing a ride, clearly enjoy some friendly banter to help with their relative solitude.

STP receives an average of 80 calls a month. By far the lion’s share of the funding is spent reimbursing drivers for their fuel and vehicle use. STP has a reimbursement schedule which follows the price of gas. Currently, STP drivers receive 42 cents a mile. The rate will rise or fall a penny against every dime increase/decrease on the price of gas. Other than the modest phone bill, postage and paper supplies, there are no other expenses.

Presently, STP is looking at a shortfall of $10,000 and summer is a dry period for incoming funds.

“We are obliged to and will keep our commitment to cancer patients for as long as that ‘target’ fund lasts,” STP coordinator Dana Hanson said.

STP has some fundraising activities planned. This Saturday, Aug. 25, STP will be joining the Bridgton Community Center Yard Sale with a tent/booth.

“We’ll be sharing it with the Boy Scouts of Bridgton. Frankly, it’s that age-old image of a Boy Scout helping an old lady across the street that we’re going for. Cute, huh?” Hanson said.

On Sept. 9, STP will be back at the BCC with a tent and booth (next to the Scouts again) for Maine Apple Sunday.

Then, sometime in the fall, STP will plan a Walk-for-a-Ride fundraiser wherein folks find others to sponsor them for a walk along the Stevens Brook Trail. During the afore-mentioned events, STP will have information and signups.

As always, donations are accepted to Senior Transportation Program, P.O. Box 816, Bridgton, ME 04009. The nonprofit corporate I.D. number, for tax deduction purposes, is 26-0148458.

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