People For People offers seniors rides across 12 counties

Madelyn Carlson knows what drives seniors to lead longer, more productive lives.

“If they don’t have transportation services—if they can’t access critical services—they’re going to be institutionalized much earlier,” said Carlson, CEO of People For People, a nonprofit committed to empowering senior citizens with resources, such as medical transportation. “And when they have to be displaced in an unfamiliar place and can’t participate in their community, their health declines more rapidly. I look at it as we’re able to maintain healthier individuals by keeping them in their home.”

People For People has been around since 1965 and was originally founded as Yakima County Community Action Council with a focus on employment training services, Head Start programs and community action agency services.

It began providing transportation in 1982.

“Senior Services approached us and said, ‘We need someone who can provide transportation for our seniors to get to meals, to get to shopping,’ and we were able to get donations to purchase a couple of vans. That’s when we started providing transportation,” Carlson said.

Whether a person is unable to drive due to health issues, such as impaired vision, or poor road conditions, or doesn’t have a valid driver’s license, People For People can get to remote areas to give seniors a ride to go shopping, or make medical appointments.

“Just being able to have that reliable transportation to access health care is so important, not only for the ongoing cost of health care — because every missed appointment is a cost we all absorb — but to not delay treatment or diagnosis for cancer or ongoing kidney dialysis,” she said. “It’s vital that individuals are able to get access as quickly as possible. We have a high population that has diabetes, and they need to make sure that is monitored on a regular basis.”

Carlson said many people on their routes live in rural areas with limited access to core services. The Community Connectors program provides transportation from Yakima to Prosser on a fixed route for a regularly scheduled trip.

“We time it so we meet up with Ben Franklin Transit in Prosser so people can go even further to the Tri-Cities. We even had a grandma who lived in Selah use the Yakima Transit to get on the Community Connector to Prosser, and then get on Ben Franklin Transit to visit with her grandchildren in Pasco. She was able to do that for under $5,” said Carlson, adding that the Community Connector program offers free fares.

There are also twice-monthly routes between Othello and Kennewick.

People For People routes span across 12 counties, including Benton and Franklin counties.

Altogether, the agency provides more than 132,000 passenger trips each year, traveling almost 900,000 miles between its 50 vehicles.

The average cost per trip is $22 and includes gas, vehicle maintenance costs and salaries.

People For People has an annual budget of $15.1 million, and the majority of that funding comes from federal, state and local sources. Only a small portion comes from donations, although Carlson said the agency gladly accepts donations of money and time.

“The senior population is so giving,” she said, pointing out that although People For People serves seniors, there are many elderly volunteers. Programs such as Yakima County’s Meals On Wheels, which is run by People For People, provides more than 92,000 meals a year. Volunteers help ensure seniors receive a nutritious meal, either at one of the six senior/community centers where meals are delivered, or through door-to-door delivery.

Last year in Benton and Franklin counties, Senior Life Resources Northwest’s Meals on Wheels delivered 173,000 meals. It also serves seniors at eight dining centers.

Carlson said her agency has about 100 volunteers who help throughout the year in different capacities. Often volunteers get to know clients personally and can be instrumental in helping seniors maintain their independence.

“If people are able to stay in their community with friends, family and church members, that is a supported environment for them,” she said. “We’re also able to save taxpayer dollars because they’re not having to pay for long-term health care.”

Along with providing seniors with access to immediate medical care, People For People offers non-emergency medical transportation, which gives eligible individuals access to Medicaid services.

“We are able to identify the most appropriate transportation for them. Whether it’s a bus voucher, gas voucher. We’re also contracting with providers to provide that direct service,” said Carlson, adding that the non-emergency medical transportation program is not just for seniors, but for individuals and children receiving Medicaid as well.

For more information, call 2-1-1, a community line for anyone in need of services, whether it’s work force training, transportation services, senior services or to volunteer.

For more information on People For People, including Community Connector routes and other transportation across Southeast Washington, visit the agency’s website at pfp.org.

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