Summit County Council member Roger Armstrong's 89-year-old mother has lived independently for a number of years, but recently he has seen her struggle with a number of disabilities. When Armstrong learned about the county's volunteer driver program, he was pleased that people like his mother can have options for mobility.
"When you lose your ability to move yourself around in the community, it can be really debilitating," Armstrong said. "Elderly people need prescription drugs; they need to get to doctors. It can be socially isolating if you're housebound."
Along with managing three senior centers in Kamas, Coalville and Park City Summit County's Senior Citizen Services program organizes a volunteer transportation program that drives seniors to doctor's appointments within a 60-mile radius.
The county's senior citizen liaison, Heather Nalette, said they are in need of additional volunteers for the driver program, which also takes seniors on educational outings, such as museums and plays.
"[The program] really helps make sure seniors are taken care of. They don't often have family members nearby," Nalette said.
Henry Nygaard, President of the South Summit Senior Center and an 85-year-old veteran, said his center uses its own bus as well as the county's. Appointments can be scheduled if a senior wants to go to a doctor's appointment or grocery shopping, but he said they encounter problems with more short-notice needs.
"The biggest problem we have with transportation is when a person has an emergency," Nygaard said. "Volunteer drivers aren't always available."
Nygaard said his center tries to plan at least two outside activities per month. He said they have taken seniors up the Mirror Lake Highway, over Guardsman's Pass and to museums in Salt Lake. The transportation is provided free to seniors.
"Senior citizens really need social activity. One of the ways we avoid our citizens from getting depression if they don't have family is to get them out at least two to three times per week," Nygaard said.
Nalette said the county provides vehicles for volunteer drivers and covers fuel costs. The program drives seniors to appointments roughly once a week, but Nalette would like to see that increase to five times per week, given enough volunteers.
"Many seniors feel that they're a burden. We don't want them to feel that way," Nalette said. "Seniors still need to make sure they're taken care of on a regular basis."
Armstrong said that taking seniors to outside events is "important and humane" but added that the Park City area lacks a sufficient number of elderly support facilities, especially important for his mother, who recently suffered an injury after falling.
"As our population in Summit County ages, we have to take a look at the kind of support we have for the elderly. Do we have adequate nursing home facilities?" Armstrong said, adding that there are not enough facilities to suitably address what his mother is going through.
Nygaard said the South Summit Senior Center is in the process of addressing transportation issues, especially for those seniors who may encounter short-notice transportation needs. He stressed the importance of driving seniors to events as well.
"It makes a difference in old people's lives," Nygaard said. "It's amazing how happy and cheerful they are when they have someone to talk to."
For more information on the county's volunteer transportation program for seniors, contact Heather Nalette at 435-336-3014 or at email@example.com.