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Plans under way to launch transit system for seniors
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Debra Shade
PINELLAS COUNTY – A new senior citizen transit system called “Easy Ride” will be launched Oct. 1 in Dunedin and Clearwater, but is expected to go county-wide to fill the gap left by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Partially subsidized by the PSTA, the plan by Neighborly Care Network of St. Petersburg will kick off with 100 passengers and spread to other Pinellas County communities as word spreads.

The new program will provide mini-buses and vans for seniors that need transportation for medical, shopping and other reasons.

Like the highly-successful Neighborly Pharmacy that was launched three years ago to provide medications sold at cost to non-insured seniors and other individuals, Easy Ride is expected to be very successful.

“There are many seniors who need transportation to doctor’s offices, hospitals and to other places,” Debra Shade, the network’s president and CEO said. “The PSTA simply cannot provide that kind of service.”

Shade said the plan is for mini-buses and vans to pick up passengers at their homes. They are returned to their original destination later in the day.

“We cannot expect older people to stand in the hot sun to wait for a bus,” Shade said. “They need to be able to get from one place to another more efficiently.”

The vehicles for the most part would be driven by volunteers. The network is especially interested in volunteers who hold CDL licenses that allow them to operate larger vehicles.

Some operating expenses would come from revenue earned at the network’s Shoppe Around the Corner, a Palm Harbor gift shop. Other funding will come from individual and corporate contributors.

The shop’s proceeds already help finance the Neighborly Pharmacy that fills about 150 prescriptions daily as opposed to a Publix store that might fill only about 40.

The pharmacy is located in the Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N. in St. Petersburg.

Besides the prescription and the upcoming transportation programs, the network offers a variety of other services for older citizens. One of the more popular is the day care program for seniors living with family members who work during business hours. The individuals are picked up at their homes around 7 a.m. and returned by 5 p.m.

The facilities are located in Largo, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin and Lealman. They provide physical and mental stimulation, meals, health and special services for the mentally impaired, such as those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“Our goal is to allow older citizens to live with loved ones and not in nursing homes,” Shade said.

Shade said people generally die within a year after entering a nursing facility that can cost from $50,000 annually and higher.

“We focus on the elderly and ways to keep them out of nursing homes,” Shade said. “Don’t forget, too, that people in nursing homes contribute nothing to the economy.”

The network also provides home care such as skilled nursing, different therapies and social work. There also are nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels and transportation services for the handicapped, hearing and sight impaired. The network has a fleet of about 40 buses and vans.

Volunteers play a major role in all of the programs. They drive vehicles, deliver Meals on Wheels and help in many other ways.

Information on adult day service is available by calling 573-9444; managed care, 1-888-385-6305; nutrition services, 939-8886; transportation services, 571-4384 or the Neighborly Pharmacy, 892- 5781.
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