Recently injured and unable to drive, I was suddenly in the precarious position of not being able to rely on myself to get around for either necessity or pleasure. I’m fortunate that I have a support network willing to help out. But what if this wasn’t the case, and either suddenly or over time, any of us couldn’t drive where we needed to go? This situation, sadly, is the case for too many Vineyarders over the age of 65, who happen to be one out of three who live here, and find themselves hindered from getting to the pharmacy, medical appointments, shopping, meeting a friend for the movies, or driving somewhere after dark.
Fortunately, Healthy Aging MV (HAMV) is keenly aware of the challenge, and set about doing something substantial. Two years ago, it convened the Older Adult Transportation Coalition, consisting of more than 15 Island organizations, which provides alternative solutions for older adults and those with disabilities, to meet people where they are in their aging journey. The coalition works together to ensure that there are adequate options for both on-Island essential (medical) and enrichment transportation needs, as well as off-Island medical transport.
The Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) is one way to get around, and through March, is free to riders. But there are drawbacks if you don’t live near a route, the schedule doesn’t work for you, or you have multiple or heavy bags. After researching other communities, the coalition landed upon GoGoGrandparent, started by two grandsons when their grandmother could no longer get around by herself. It is a concierge program in which you call a toll-free number when you need it, speaking to a live person, who then schedules Lyft or Uber rides to and from anywhere on the Island. You get referred by an Island service agency for the program, and then HAMV registers you and covers 100 percent of the cost through foundation grants and resident contributions.
There were 906 rides the first year, which skyrocketed the second year to some 3,700. The hospital has become a participant, so they can also call and get rides home for patients when needed. Riders love it for many reasons.
“When I had to stop driving, a problem arose — ‘How do I get where I’m going?’ Friends and relatives are good-natured and helpful, but asking for favors has its limits. And so do fluctuating taxi and Uber costs,” Tad Crawford said about the program before he passed away, describing how at age 83, and a 100 percent disabled vet with Parkinson’s disease, he and his wife Judy worried about whether they could remain on-Island. When Judy was laid up due to a total knee replacement, he said, “GoGoGrandparent became virtually indispensable. The answer to our question: Can we ‘age in place’? GoGoGrandparent is one big part of the reason we can now say — Yes! This is where we belong!”
HAMV executive director Cindy Trish says, “There is a sense of gratitude that it’s a first-class experience, and you’re not getting the dregs of something that doesn’t work because you are older and don’t have money. We’re looking long-term into thinking about how to make this volunteer-based.”
Another initiative is the free shopping shuttles run out of the Edgartown, Tisbury, and Oak Bluffs Councils on Aging, which you sign up for ahead of time. All of this is based on the principle of asset sharing, so the VTA lends the van and driver that provide door-to-door service to all the places you might want to go in town, including the Post Office, pharmacy, library, food pantry, and grocery store, and sometimes add transportation to special events. “This is a climate-friendly solution in that it’s a single driver with multiple riders who get picked up at their home,” Trish says.
M.V. Center for Living Adult Supportive Day Program provides door-to-door transportation for $10 per day to clients enrolled in its adult Supportive Day Program, and for field trips to local sites in vans, also provided by the VTA. “This is a huge godsend for the families, and adds to the social aspect,” Trish says.
The coalition’s first foray farther afield is the Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston (OCB) Medical Transportation Off-Island Shuttle Program, motivated by the fact that there are some 750 cataract surgeries a year. This $20 round-trip van service brings older adult Islanders to the OCB facilities on the Cape and Plymouth for eye-related appointments. In many cases, especially with cataract surgery, you can’t drive, and you have to have an escort, which is available as part of the service. Riders meet the van at the Vineyard Haven Steamship terminal and are dropped off there upon return. It runs once a month, and the schedule is coordinated with Islanders’ appointment schedule.
Trish speaks about what’s on the horizon. “We’re ideally looking to launch a new program to run a van to Boston on a more regular basis, all day, every day. Right now, the choices are very limited, having to get an appointment between 10 am and 1 pm on a Tuesday, three times a month. Even though it’s a great service, it’s a tiny window. We’re just starting on how to address those 8,000-plus off-Island medical rides per year.
“We have done a lot and have a lot more to go,” Trish adds. “When you have a village, you can do more and optimize resources, and build collaboration in a way that really showcases the best of who we are as an Island. This is such a win-win for older adults who want to stay in their homes and stay on the Island. It’s a win for the Island to keep our older adults here. And it’s something everyone is eventually going to need.”
For information about all of the Vineyard’s available on and off-Island transportation options through the Older Adults Transportation Coalition and beyond, see bit.ly/HAMV_OntheGo. Information about all the Older Adult Transportation Coalition initiatives is at hamv.org/transportation-workgroup. For those interested in being part of and/or supporting the coalition, contact Cindy Trish at email@example.com or 508-693-7900, ext. 455.