Finding a ride to the doctor can be an ordeal for senior citizens or people with disabilities, but Whidbey wheels get turning when a need arises.
Volunteer drivers of all ages and backgrounds put their own spin on the Medical Transportation program, administered by Island Senior Resources. Volunteers arrive in private vehicles to ensure nobody misses a medical appointment for lack of a ride.
Island Senior Resources is currently seeking people 25 or older who have a Washington state driver’s license, current vehicle registration, no moving violations in the past year, and have a car in good working order to hit the highway for a good cause — and make a friend along the way.
As the Whidbey Island population ages, the need for rides is increasing, and the number of volunteer drivers hasn’t kept up with demand.
The number of medical transportation trips made through the program in the first six months of 2019, and the same time period in 2018, shows an increase of 223 percent.
But the number of volunteer drivers decreased by 11 percent. Even so, those faithful drivers racked up 89,327 miles from January through June this year, dwarfing the 57,545 miles in the first half of last year.
Statistics aside, there’s an urgent need for islanders with wheels to roll up to the task, according to Island Senior Resources.
With a few hours to spare, almost anyone can help fill the crucial role of delivering Whidbey neighbors to medical facilities for dialysis, chemo, specialist appointments or diagnostic procedures.
Island Senior Resources ensures that no islanders ages 60-plus, or people with disabilities between the ages of 18 to 59, are ever without rides to critical appointments.
But the organization needs the community to fill the void.
“Medical transportation volunteer drivers are part of the safety net that allows seniors to remain in their homes and continue to live in a place that they love,” said Cheryn Weiser, executive director of Island Senior Resources.
With the considerable increase in miles driven this year, she stressed that “the need for volunteers to drive seniors to their medical appointments is skyrocketing.”
“We need your help,” Weiser said.
Robin Bush, the organization’s outreach director and executive coordinator, pointed out in her “call to action” that there’s another big plus to pairing drivers and seniors.
Among the greatest risks to seniors in the community is isolation, she said, and the time spent riding to and from a medical appointment provides a chance for friendly conversation and an often-needed connection with another person.
Trips can range from short local jaunts to more distant destinations such as greater Seattle or Bellingham, so volunteers can select which trips fit their schedules on any given day.
There’s no cost to volunteer driver, who are reimbursed for mileage or priority boarding on the Clinton and Mukilteo ferries.
There’s also a small stipend for meals when driving off island and a 25-percent discount at Senior Thrift.
• To learn more about becoming a volunteer driver, contact Pat Weekly, medical transportation and volunteer services director, at 360-914-3212.