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Solon seniors struggle with transportation

SOLON– Solon Senior Advocates president Sandy Hanson has her hands full.
Not only does she work to keep the Old Gold Diner going, but she is also often fielding calls from Solon’s seniors who are concerned about how to get to their medical appointments.
“I get a call about every two weeks asking how they can get to their appointments,” Hanson said. “I would really like to get Solon on the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, but we need volunteer drivers.”
Transportation for seniors in Solon can be complicated. Hanson said that she would love to make getting to and from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids more regular for the community, but so far has come to a dead end.
“We kind of need to do this,” Hanson explained.
Hanson is responsible for arranging volunteer delivery drivers for the meals served at the Old Gold Diner. She said that the need for reliable transportation for Solon’s seniors is a huge issue, but has been pushed aside while the Advocates focused on obtainingfunding for the congregate meals program for the coming year.
“We’ve been spending all our time trying to keep Old Gold Diner going. The transportation issue has been kind of shelved,” Hanson said.
The Senior Advocates rely only on grants and donations to keep their program running.
The Old Gold Diner, Solon’s congregate meal site, is an important place for Solon seniors. Not only is it a place and a time where seniors can gather and mingle, but they also plan and organize schedules to make transportation to events and programs easier. The Senior Advocates have helped support the dining site and have utilized it as a way to get out information to seniors.
The group previously owned a 10-passenger van that took groups of Solon seniors on trips about once a month.
“Our mission has kind of evolved, and enlarged,” said Hanson. “Mainly, we are trying to keep our seniors engaged.”
However, the van was sold in 2013 because it was difficult to drive with the retro-fitted wheelchair assembly and wasn’t economical to drive seniors to appointments in Iowa City or Cedar Rapids.
The group is trying to raise money for a new van to accommodate these senior field trips. The van would have a center aisle that would comfortably seat 15 people. But Hanson said that using a van to help Solon’s seniors to and from appointments wouldn’t necessarily be the answer.
“I don’t think a van is economical to get people to appointments,” said Hanson. She added that a more logical solution would be to partner up with one of the many rural transportation programs that are available in the area.
So far, with the help of city council member Brad Kunkel, Hanson has been contacted by three groups from both Linn and Johnson County that say they would be willing to help, but only if need for such programs could be shown.
“For us to tackle the transportation project, we first need to have assessment for the need,” Hanson said. “I’m trying to figure out how best to do that.”
One possible way would be to conduct a community-wide survey, or to gather signatures showing interest in such a program.
Solon resident Tim Evans, 76, said that he occasionally uses the Iowa City-based SEATS Para-Transit program to get to Iowa City. He said that while the bus system is helpful, the system can sometimes be difficult to schedule appointments around.
“Your window is pretty limited,” Evans said. “It’s good, but since you’re working with such a small window, it has its complications.”
In order to get picked up by the rural Johnson County service, individuals must call the program ahead of time and set up a time to be picked up. They must also be ready to return to Solon on the van’s schedule.
“It can be a hassle to set up an appointment within a certain window,” explained Evans.
Evans also worried about the economic feasibility of such a program.
“The more people they have, the more efficient the whole thing is,” he said.