Rock County transport program turns away new clients

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, March 15, 2013

A non-profit program providing free transportation for Rock County seniors is stretched beyond what it can afford and has begun turning away new clients.

"The program lost money in 2012, and with the uncertainty regarding federal funding for 2013, it is a necessary action to ensure the long-term sustainability of the program," said Bob Harlow, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program executive director.

The transportation program for people 55 and older stopped taking referrals March 1.

The 42 people on a waiting list will wait at least 10 months to get help, Harlow said.

RSVP started the transportation service in October 2010 as part of its Seniors Volunteering for Seniors program. It was created to fill a void left by the June 2010 closing of the Senior Companion Program, formerly led by Senior Services of Rock County. It is staffed by 50 volunteers.

Rather than take more referrals and ask people to wait an exceptionally long time, RSVP will serve the 300 people already signed up, Harlow said.

Those on the waiting list will be absorbed over time. When the waiting list is smaller, referrals will again be accepted, he said.

"It is felt that persons having to wait so long for the chance of getting services is an injustice to them and could create a negative perception of the program, which has been very successful," Harlow said.

Projections show the need for senior transportation will continue to grow with the aging population, Harlow said. The 2010 census shows that those 60 and older make up 20 percent of Rock County's population.

"There's a significant number of aging folks in our county," Harlow said.

Those waiting for help from the program must rely on other options from the county Council on Aging or private services that charge a fee. RSVP's program is free.

"If they have to pay, they may have to give up something else because they're on a fixed income," he said.

This isn't the first blow to the transportation program.

Mileage reimbursement was cut 30 percent on top of reductions in local United Way and federal funding in 2012.

Harlow said the program is lucky no volunteer drivers have left because of the cutbacks. They remain committed to the program because they know the need is great and because those receiving services are appreciative, Harlow said.

Seniors Volunteering for Seniors was $5,000 in the hole last June.

Cutbacks in mileage reimbursement and limiting the service to trips to the grocery story, medical appointments and other essential destinations have helped turn that loss around.

"We're not losing money now and haven't lost money in January or February of this year. We have a slight net income," Harlow said.

But it isn't enough to take on more clients or restore the mileage rate to the 55.5 cents it was one year ago, he said.

Last updated: 7:56 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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