HALLOWELL — Marty Hagglund lives in Kennebec Village in Farmingdale, where she and other residents are concerned about neighbors who can no longer drive.
So far, they’ve tried to do the neighborly thing and organize rides to medical appointments. But Hagglund, a retiree who has five doctor’s appointments scheduled for herself next week, is also concerned about what will happen when she can no longer drive either.
“We need transportation for real medical needs,” she said. “I’m diabetic. I have to get food.”
Hagglund was one of about 50 people who came to a meeting at the William S. Cohen Community Center in Hallowell Friday to talk about something that’s been a pressing issue for decades: effective transportation in a rural state with an older population.
Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, organized the meeting after talking with residents at Kennebec Village who pulled her aside to express their concern while she was campaigning.
“I know there have been all these study committees and reports that go back decades,” she said. “And I know we don’t have any money.”
Treat said the meeting was designed to be the first step toward finding a solution.
Sue Moreau of the Maine Department of Transportation said Maine gets only $12 million a year in federal money to pay for these types of transportation services, which means the state must continue to rely on a system that combines bus service in cities, van service in other areas and numerous volunteers.
The department will spend the next year updating a master plan that will focus on transportation for the elderly. One issue, and it’s one that Hagglund mentioned, is providing transportation for those who do not qualify for MaineCare, the state’s version of federal Medicaid benefits awarded to the poor.
“They are falling through the cracks,” she said.
Katherine Freund, founder of the Independent Transportation Network, said her nonprofit organization provides transportation for seniors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s like joining a club — members have an account and are billed monthly for the service. Those who can no longer drive can trade their car in to the network for credits for future rides, she said.
The service, which is offered in 27 states and in southern Maine, can be expanded to more rural areas of the state if it offers rides to everyone, not just the elderly, she said. It’s designed to work alongside other transportation options.
While brainstorming ideas, one man suggested that school buses could be pressed into service mid-day, weekends and summers when they are not needed to transport students. Others said churches can supply volunteer drivers, and that the American Cancer Society offers free rides to patients who need treatments across the state.
Yet another idea was to work more closely with taxi drivers to identify needs.
One person suggested using lottery proceeds to better fund transportation services.
Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, said the state needs to be better prepared for the turnover among caregivers and that statistics show Maine’s elder population will continue to grow in the coming years.
“They don’t stop driving if they don’t have an alternative,” she said.
Susan Cover — 621-5643