Driving change: Transportation solutions for seniors in the area

Published 1:32 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Guest column by Martha Jones Sichko

Transportation isn’t just a convenience — it’s a lifeline to essential services like medical appointments, groceries and social activities. Sadly, there are seniors in our community who are stranded because they don’t have transportation. It’s a silent struggle against isolation, a longing for relationships and a lack of empowerment. A ride means connection and independence, and we need to prioritize senior transportation to ensure quality of life and demonstrate care and concern.

Martha Jones Sichko

U.S. Census data indicates that 23% of Freeborn County’s population are seniors. A city with a high percentage of seniors faces increased demand for health care, social services and transportation. Thankfully, our community does have some transportation resources for seniors, but not enough. Moreover, fragmented services and limited communication efforts have hindered access.

Email newsletter signup

Because the current hodgepodge approach causes confusion among seniors, a solution could entail the county and city uniting to expand resources and overcome challenges. Here’s an initial roadmap to improve senior transportation.

Create a campaign

The city employs a communicator, and the county operates a public health department. By joining forces for a senior education campaign, they could raise awareness of transportation options and contacts. Utilizing existing budgets, they could develop outreach materials, host forums and broaden senior-oriented channels, significantly boosting knowledge of transportation resources.

Recruit drivers

Numerous opportunities exist to help seniors in our community. Critical among them are drivers for seniors. A major goal of the joint campaign should include recruiting drivers, emphasizing that whether a volunteer or a compensated driver, this role improves lives.

Streamline resources

The county currently lists senior-oriented resources on its website, but it can prove tricky to access and understand programs and costs. Some transportation only serves medical assistance participants, as Medicare usually doesn’t cover non-medical transportation.

A pillar of support for our community is Seniors Resources, as it provides some senior services, including some transportation for individuals aged 60 and above. Another is the Senior Center, which offers programs to enrich seniors’ lives. Many senior living organizations also provide transportation and activities.

These are vital assets, but the concern is communicating who does what, where, when and how. This ambiguity is a reason why seniors need an easy one-stop place to find answers.

Establish free rides for seniors

SMART Transit provides public transportation with fixed fares and designated stops across Albert Lea. Citizens can also schedule rides. Because Mayo Clinic has been offering free rides to and from their clinic for Austin seniors, SMART is sharing data with Mayo so the health care giant can mirror the program for Albert Lea seniors.

To ensure free rides happen from Mayo, every citizen should contact elected officials. Also, contact Ian Rigg, city manager, at IRigg@ci.albertlea.mn.us or 507-377-4330 and Ryan Rasmusson, county administrator, at Ryan.Rasmusson@co.freeborn.mn.us or 507-377-5116.

Empowering seniors strengthens our community.

Martha Jones Sichko is a senior advocate helping to ensure affordable, accessible health care in Freeborn County.


Important numbers:

  • Freeborn County Public Health: 507-377-5100
  • City of Albert Lea: 507-377-4300
  • Senior Resources of Freeborn County: 507-377-7433
  • Albert Lea Senior Center: 507-373-0704
  • SMART Transit: 507-433-2379