MARQUETTE - Gwinn senior citizen Eleanor Deloria doesn't know what she would do without the transporters program provided by the local Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.
"That is one of the best things around. I would not have any way to get to my doctor's appointments without it," Deloria said. "It has worked out so well for me. They have covered most of my appointments and the drivers are awesome.
"They treat me so well. They always pick me up on time so I don't have to worry about making it to my appointment," she said. "The people are so nice. I have to use a wheelchair and they push me right to my appointment area. I cannot sing enough praise for them."
Richard Lehto of Ishpeming helps Mary Ann Wakkuri, also of Ishpeming, get to a medical appointment earlier this year. Lehto is a transporter in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, meaning he provides a ride to a senior who needs assistance making it to scheduled appointments. The program is in need of more transporters, especially in the Gwinn area. (RSVP photo)
The program, however, is in dire need of more transporters, especially to help out seniors in the Gwinn area, said Amy Mattson, RSVP director.
"Volunteers from the Gwinn area are urgently needed for the Non-Emergency Medical Transportation Program. These transporters provide rides to medical appointments for isolated or elderly seniors, along with an escort into the medical office," Mattson said.
She's hoping people will spread the word to friends, neighbors, church, service or social groups, or anyone else who may be interested in helping their senior neighbors get to their appointments.
"The program now has just five Gwinn transporters who have been providing an average of six ride requests each week," she said.
Gwinn resident Lionel Lauren has been one of those transporters for the past three years.
"I guess I got involved when someone at the senior center asked if I would volunteer to drive," Lauren said. "I had nothing better to do, so I volunteered. I find that I really, really enjoy it. I meet new people and have become friends with some of them."
Lauren estimates he has made about 90 runs as a transporter in the past three years, six alone this month. He has 29 people he takes at different times to their medical appointments.
Mattson said in fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2011, local RSVP transporters provided rides to 759 medical
appointments for 151 different seniors.
"Without the transportation program some of these seniors may have no other way to get to the doctor," she said. "Last year just 18 rides were incomplete because a volunteer wasn't available."
Mattson said this is how the program works: When a ride request comes into the RSVP office, the list of transporters is called until one is available. The driver is given the senior's name, phone number, address and appointment information. Volunteer transporters provides rides as often as they are available - some may drive one or two seniors each week, while others are available once or twice or a month.
Lauren said: "I keep a daily log book so I know what dates I have open, when I am not already transporting someone or my wife or I have our own appointment. For me, the run can last an hour or it can be longer, depending on the appointment. And it can be 10 miles round trip or 109 miles round trip. I have brought people to Bell (Hospital) in Ishpeming and to the (Peninsula) Medical Center in Marquette or to Marquette General. Sometimes, the ride is just to Gwinn or Sawyer."
Mattson said the driver picks up the senior on the appointment day, takes him or her to the medical appointment, and into the medical appointment. After the appointment the senior is taken back home. Volunteer drivers generally spend a few hours per transport. Mileage reimbursement of 30 cents per mile is available to transporters who need it.
For example, Mattson said, a RSVP transporter would be reimbursed $13.80 for the 46-mile round trip to from the Forsyth Senior Center to the Peninsula Medical Center.
"I do know we need more drivers," Lauren said. "I hope some more people volunteer."
Deloria, too, hopes the program continues.
"It's taken a lot of stress away from me, knowing I will have a way to get to my doctor's appointments," she said. "I didn't know about the program until someone told me about it. I am just amaze by it. It's a wonderful service and the transporters all treat me so well. I appreciate all they do for me."
For more information, call Amy Mattson at 485-1782.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.