ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A good rule of thumb is that the older a person gets, the more medically-necessary trips they’ll need to make.
Unfortunately, as age increases, the practicality of driving tends to decrease. That’s not always the case, there are plenty of senior citizens who possess driving abilities that would put you average 20-somethings to shame.
But generally, driving becomes more difficult as you age. So when medical appointments need to be attended, an no one is around to offer a ride, where do senior citizens turn?
That’s where the Belmont County Senior Services Center comes in, and in particular, its transportation program
“We transport seniors ages 60 and above that live in Belmont County to doctors appointments, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, dialysis, pretty much anything,” program manager Kathy Harding said. “We also transport veterans to the pickup locations so they can be driven to the VA hospitals.”
Harding has been with the Senior Services Center for 11 years. The center has been offering the service for more than 20 years.
What began as a few rides a day a couple times per week has turned into a steady stream of transports.
Harding explained that the center services between 1,200 to 1,500 individual clients per year and roughly 25-30 people per day.
The toughest part, according to Harding, is the scheduling.
“We have a lot of clients who are very frail or live on fixed incomes and they just can’t afford to do anything else but to call us,” Harding said. “Generally, we have a 2-3 week wait for appointments. The major appointments, chemo, radiation, we get taken care of as soon as possible and don’t make them wait the couple of weeks.
“But for a normal appointment, we just can’t fit it in right away.”
The one complaint Harding says she hears quite frequently is that people will comment on seeing a Senior Services Center vehicle traveling with only one or two passengers.
In an ideal situation, each of the center’s 11 vehicles would be filled to capacity during each excursion, maximizing effectiveness and cost.
But in a county that boasts 541 square miles of territory, it’s not practical.
“We might have five people from st. Clairsville going in all different directions, one to Morristown, one to (Martins) Ferry, one to Medical Park in Wheeling, and they are basically all going at the same time,” Harding said. “You can’t go in four different directions in one vehicle and sometimes, it makes scheduling very tough.”
A contribution donation of $3 is asked of Belmont County residents utilizing the service, but given that the residents are covered under the senior services levy, the fee is suggested, not required.
“We have some Passport clients that we get money from, on a fixed-rate. We have a contract that will tell us how much it will cost to go from, say, Barnesville to Wheeling,” Harding said.
“We suggest three dollars a trip in general, but they can pay whatever they want. If they can’t pay, that’s fine.”
Riders begin being picked up at 4:30 a.m. and the latest routes must have the patients at their respective appointments by 2 p.m.
The service operates Monday through Friday, with dialysis patients being able to be transported on Saturday’s. The two wheelchair-accessible vans don’t run during the weekend.
The transportation department isn’t limited to medically-necessary trips only.
Harding explained that there are scheduled days for grocery shopping, usually Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, each week with scheduled stops.
Residents are picked up at local senior centers or housing centers and are given around 45 minutes to 1 hour to shop.
The drivers are able to assist the residents with carrying their groceries into the house, but with space being limited in the vehicles, residents can only purchase so many groceries per trip.
The center also offers Ohio Valley Mall shopping trips once per month, usually the second Monday and Tuesday per month. These are offered at the senior centers and generally allow for a 2-3 hour shopping excursions.
T-L Photo/MIKE HUGHES
RECEPTIONIST?PAM Pugh takes a quick break from her duties in the Belmont County Senior Services Center’s transportation department office. Pugh, along with manager Kathy Harding, handle all the scheduling and coordination for the department’s 11 vehicles and 13 drivers.