Network lets seniors keep independence


Dad needs to go to the doctor’s office. Or the bank. Or perhaps he wants to stop by a gardening supply store to pick up a few items so he can indulge his retirement hobby.

Mom needs to go to the supermarket. Or the beauty parlor. Or maybe she wants to have lunch with a lifelong friend at their favorite restaurant.

You know freedom means a lot to your aging parent or parents, but you also know there are extenuating concerns, reduced vision being at the forefront, that should keep them from driving.

And as a member of the ever-growing “sandwich generation” — that group of Americans who keep one wary eye on their senior parents while keeping the other on their own children — it pains you that you can’t be there to meet all of Dad and Mom’s transportation needs.

You can’t take time off from work; that’s too costly. Other times, you simply can’t fit their trips in with all of your children’s myriad activities.

“Just because a person reaches a certain age doesn’t mean that he or she has to revert to childhood and be dependent on their children,” says Fran Smith, co-founder/co-executive director of ITNLasVegasValley — ITN standing for Independent Transportation Network — which provides low-cost trips for adults age 60 and older who live in Henderson and parts of southeast Las Vegas.

“Our service enhances the independence of seniors so they can continue to live as they did when they were driving.”

“Dignified transportation,” they call it.

Parent company ITNAmerica has affiliates from coast to coast, and it generally provides transportation for seniors whose eyesight has slipped.

The nearly 3-year-old local chapter, however, serves seniors who can’t or shouldn’t drive for any variety of reasons. The clientele stands at approximately 450, with more than 30,000 trips logged since the agency’s inception.

Through a financial partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada established in 2009, ITNLasVegasValley also handles paratransit service for areas of southeast Las Vegas that the RTC doesn’t serve.

“The relationship is ideal,” says Tina Quigley, general manager of the RTC, “because it allows us to provide transportation services to our more frail customers in Henderson communities such as Anthem, which lies outside the paratransit service area.

“Because of the partnership, we can provide greater accessibility and meet mobility challenges that face our elderly and physically challenged customers, giving them an opportunity to live the quality of life they deserve. That, of course, is one of the RTC’s primary goals.”

The name ITNLasVegasValley is, admittedly, a misnomer, since the program doesn’t aid all Southern Nevadans — yet. Smith said she and co-founder/Co-Executive Director Nancy Sprague hope to be serving the full valley by the end of their fifth year.

With Southern Nevada increasingly becoming more of a retirement community, “Our take is that as we age we start to lose some of our faculties, and some of those can impact our ability to drive,” Smith says. “The real purpose of ITN is that your life shouldn’t end just because your ability to drive ends.”

ITNLasVegasValley is a nonprofit agency, but its services are not free — well, not in principle. Because the world of seniors ranges from the well-to-do to those who must survive solely on Social Security, the agency has different ways in which it handles the cost of individual transportation.

The RTC, Caesars Foundation, “several local banks,” philanthropic donations and outside grants help to cover much of the cost of the eight wheelchair-accessible minivans, the gasoline that is used and the salaries of 20 staff members — mostly drivers and transit dispatchers.

But with an average of more than 3,000 trips per month that can result in a destination anywhere in the valley, seniors who can afford it and/or adult children who want to help cover the costs, are required to set up prepaid accounts in the senior’s name where the cost of each trip is deducted. Trips cost $3 each way for pickup and $1 per mile; tips are not accepted.

Paratransit riders are required only to pay the $3 pickup fee each way.

Smith acknowledges that some seniors simply can’t pay their own way, and that is where a number of charitable options come into play. She says, “We will do everything in our power not to turn down a senior who has a medical appointment.

“I don’t know how we do it, but we always seem to find a way.”

For seniors who are financially strapped, the merit of the trip is taken into consideration; hence, the emphasis placed on getting to medical appointments.

However, for most seniors, trips can be taken for any reason, at any time of day or night. Smith says that next to medical appointments, trips to church or temple are the most requested, but seniors will also use the service for everything from dining out to going to the airport to going to work — with one woman getting a daily 4 a.m. ride to her work at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.

“Ultimately, we want seniors to have the freedom to do what they want when they want to do it,” Smith says. “It’s something we’ll all want at some point in our lives.

“Seniors should be rewarded for their age, not penalized by it.”

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