Mount Vernon Physical and social isolation comes quickly to those seniors 50 and over who, because of acognitive or physical handicaps, cannot drive to doctor or dental appointments, grocery stores, or quality of life activities that require one to use a car to get there and back. In response to the need of more and more volunteer drivers, five northern Virginia elder village organizations have partnered with Fairfax County government and a local non-profit, NVRides, that manages web-based software called RideScheduler, to revolutionize the scheduling of volunteer drivers who now drive hundreds of impaired seniors to their appointments. The result is many seniors who are not socially and physically isolated. Instead of being forced into assisted living institutions, they can age in place in their homes and neighborhoods.
“Betty Lou,” a resident in her mid-80s who lives alone, illustrates the human element importance of volunteer drivers to her quality of life: “I don’t know what I would do without my volunteer drivers. Not too long ago I had a case of vertigo while shopping at a grocery store. I fell down and was incapacitated. My driver called an ambulance and comforted me until they arrived. He then gathered up my groceries and made sure they were delivered to my home … I have been a participant in the volunteer driver program for over a year now. I use a cane to get around because of arthiritis, and I can no longer drive. Without the driver assistance program I would be trapped in my home. My children live in the area but I don’t want to burden them with taking me to the grocery store or the doctor. My husband is in a local institution and I want to stay close by and in my home and neighborhood where I have lived for many years. The Volunteer driver program helps me to stay in my home and be somewhat independent and not have to move into an assisted living place.”
For seniors who wish to age in place in their neighborhoods, three areas were cited by “Independent for Life: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America” (2012), where technological help can make a crucial difference in their lives:
- Social engagement and support for seniors facing an epidemic of isolation;
- Prevention of-and early intervention for illness and injury before it becomes catastrophic;
- Monitoring and management of chronic disease from the home, not the hospital bed.
NVRIDES through its RideShare technology assists five northern Virginia elder villages to recruit volunteer drivers, conduct background checks, and schedule seniors driver appointments.
“The number of older adults in Fairfax County is growing at twice the rate of the population,” said Patricia Rohrer, Long Term Care Program coordinator, of Fairfax County’s Office of Aging whose office supports the NVRides organization. “Without available rides, seniors are at risk of isolation and health decline. NVRides is a public-private partnership program helping a network of community-based organizations to mobilize volunteers to give more rides to older adults free of charge. Through this model, safety and reliability are assured for the riders, ease of volunteering for the drivers, cost savings for participating organizations, and more rides for seniors.”
Tom Eversole, a volunteer participant who serves as treasurer of one of the elder village organizations, the non-profit Shepherd’s Center of McLean - Arlington - Falls Church, said, “Ride scheduling has improved efficiency and speed of operating our program, reduced volunteer pressures, and expanded driver opportunities to provide rides. An example is last July our organization provided 61 rides to seniors; this April our organization under the management of NVRides, provided 224 rides. The first five months of this year, the five participating elder village organizations provided 1,597 rides to seniors.”
Co-founder of the Giving Circle of HOPE, Diana Katz, described the value of RideScheduler: “Iit enables small non-profits working outside their ‘silos,’ to work across political boundaries, and are now sharing information and offering more rides and more quality of life rides rather than just medical or grocery rides. In addition, we now have the ability to gather regional data and identify gaps in services, and the ability to increase the number of volunteers giving rides.”
“Liz,” a client of the Shepherd’s Center said, “I have been using the volunteer drivers for several years and my life has improved greatly as I am no longer able to drive. It is obvious that all of the drivers are handpicked. Their compassion, caring, and kindness has been like stardust and gold to me; a blessing beyond measure and my gratitude is endless. I also know I speak for all the clients. The drivers take their services seriously and they can be counted on at all times. They work and serve the community tirelessly and make us all feel very special.”