This week, Waterford received a $40,000 federal grant to buy a new senior van, and better accommodate a growing need in town.
“We really are busier than we ever have been as far as transportation,” Director Sally Ritchie said. “I believe it is because if you look at the numbers, we have an aging population."
Right now, 25 percent of Waterford residents are at least 65-years-old. By the year 2030, projections show that number will be 40 percent, Ritchie said.
All of that has meant more people using senior services, and this grant will be able to replace one of Waterford’s three senior vans. The van is not scheduled to be replaced until 2016, but with the grant Waterford should purchase a new one within a year, Ritchie said.
The oldest senior van has needed several repairs lately, Ritchie said. The grant pays for 80 percent of the cost of the vehicle up to $40,000, with a new van costing more than $50,000, Ritchie said.
“We will absolutely use all $40,000,” Ritchie said, who said the remaining dollars will be paid with town funds.
In the last fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012, the program served 216 people - 80 percent of which were females - and made more than 8,000 runs, Ritchie said. This program allows seniors to stay in their homes without straining the family, she said.
“It is really a program that allows people to remain independent and stay home, and get what that they need,” she said. “It also takes a lot of burden off of the family. It is a big help.”
The town will drive seniors to the grocery store or other stores, to the doctor, to the senior center or wherever else they need to go, Ritchie said. To make the program more efficient, one day the vans will take seniors to the grocery store, the next day they will take seniors to another store, she said.
“We are trying to make the routes as efficient as possible, with the gas prices the way they are,” Ritchie said. The vans will drive seniors to places in Waterford, Montville, East Lyme and New London, she said.
Many times, Waterford seniors need rides to spots in other towns, often for doctors’ appointments, Ritchie said. The town does get some federal money to pay for taxi cabs or even handicapped vans, if needed, for those trips, Ritchie said.
There is also a new program where neighbors will be reimbursed for their mileage for driving seniors to necessary destinations, Ritchie said. With the program, if a neighbor drives a senior somewhere, they can be reimbursed $0.55 per mile, she said.
“Now you can at least thank your neighbor for the time and reimburse them,” Ritchie said.
First Selectman Dan Steward said he supported the van program. He said it takes strain off of the family and allows seniors to stay in their homes.
“It’s what lets them stay home, and live in their own home without having to go to a nursing home or another facility,” Steward said. “They have to be able to get to the doctor, they have to be able to get to a store, and necessarily many of them shouldn’t be driving.”