Independent Transportation Network/SouthernDelaware is the only transportation program targeting seniors that offers 24-hour service, seven days a week. The network provides door-to-door service for residents over 55 years of age and people of any age who are visually impaired.
A team of 55 trained and vetted volunteer drivers take seniors on a variety of outings – from medical appointments to social events to shopping trips. “This helps people regain their independence and love of life,” said director Janis Hanwell. “It opens a whole new world for people, and especially those who have no family here.”
So far, ITN covers the eastern half of Sussex County, but plans are in the works to eventually expand to the western side of the county. “We know there is a need there; our goal is to serve all of Sussex County,” Hanwell said.
ITN drivers will take members outside of Sussex County for medical appointments to Dover, Salisbury and the Berlin, Md. area. “We are unique because we can cross state lines,” Hanwell said.
Affiliated with ITN/America, the local network operates out of the Milton CHEER center. Founded by Nancy Feichtl, the program gave its first ride on Dec. 2, 2015.
The annual fee to join ITN is $40 with a charge for each ride. There is a $2.50 pick-up fee, and riders pay $1.25 per mile or an hourly rate of $20 for medical appointments over 25 miles. The average fee per ride is $11.
Volunteer drivers get credits for every mile they drive to use now or in the future. Hanwell said some drivers donate their credits to ITN's scholarship program to assist low-income members.
Hanwell said senior transportation programs like ITN not only provide much-needed service to seniors who do not drive, but also help reduce medical costs. She said some seniors who are ill have no other option but to call 911 and have an ambulance take them to a hospital emergency room.
Hanwell said ITN makes every effort possible to get their members to the doctor even if the call comes in that day.
“And it keeps the roads safer when seniors who have no other option end up driving when they shouldn't,” Hanwell said. She said about a third of the network's more than 150 members still drive on a limited basis.
Hanwell said even with the programs available to seniors in the Cape Region, the growth of the senior population will far exceed the ability to provide transportation for all who need it.
“All organizations are at 100 percent, and in five years we will only reach about 5 percent of seniors,” she said. “We are only hitting the tip of the iceberg.”
To Hanwell, senior transportation is a quality-of-life issue. “I can't imagine how difficult that conversation is when it's time to take someone's car keys,” she said.
Go to itnsoutherndelaware.org for more information.