From Left Field

    One of the most worthwhile agencies in Adams County received a much-deserved upward bump in its annual donation from Decatur City Council last week.
    Council authorized a $12,000 payment to the Adams County Council on Aging, up from the $10,000 of the past two years when finances were extremely tight, but still not back to the $14,500 paid out annually prior to the major cuts of three years ago. The increase followed a pitch made at the recent council meeting by agency director Sharon Tester.
    One of the aging council's major costs, of course, is fuel prices for vehicles that are an absolute lifeblood for many of the elderly in the county. And like just about everyone else, Tester's agency is feeling the hammer of rising fuel prices.
    The agency receives approximately $35,000 annually from the federal government, $8,000 from United Way, donations from the city governments of Decatur and Berne, plus the Adams County Commissioners, and some Medicaid reimbursements. A few other donations come in from and there, plus some riders are able to pay something for their trips.
    Tester told council that this year's transportation budget is roughly $120,000.
    What it all boils down to, though, is that many, many residents of this county depend on the council's five vehicles (one with a lift and one with a ramp) to get to and from the hospital, the doctor's office, the optometrist, the supermarket, places to pay bills (many of these folks don't have or use computers), etc.
    Because it is federally funded, the agency can't set fees for use of the transportation, although some of the people make donations.
    The federal monies "have held fairly steady in recent years," but a cutback of $2,000 is ahead in 2012. the director pointed out. "That may not look like a lot out of $35,000, but for us two thousand is two thousand."    
    The council offers some homemaker services, "but the biggest part of our day is with transportation," Tester said. "We try to keep it from 9:30 (a.m.) or so until 2:30 or 3 (p.m.). That's when we spend the bulk of our time." The vehicles are idle on Saturdays and Sundays.
    The service is limited to people 60 years of age and over. The van with the lift is essential for those in wheelchairs.
    "Most days, three vehicles are in operation; often, four, but rarely all five," Tester said. The council has one fulltime driver and several parttime operators.
    Tester said transportation demands have been growing, "especially in the last month or so. Our June trips were the most in that month in three years."
    She fully understands why people with family here can't always get someone to provide transportation. "Family members are working and can't get off, or can't afford to," she explained. "If you are taking someone to, say, Fort Wayne, that' s an hour there, wait maybe an hour, then an hour back. So you've shot half a day."
    Most trips provided by the council are to locations in Decatur and within Adams County, but some are to doctors and/or hospitals in Fort Wayne and Bluffton.
    Last year, the council had 5,400 requests from Decatur residents alone. (A trip to and a trip from are considered two.)
    For a time last winter, the council was providing transportation for no less than 15 people on dialysis, three times a week for each person. "And once you're on dialysis, you don't get off; well, unless you get a transplant," Tester said. "So it's quite an obligation (for the agency)."
    With dollar stretching so important, Tester is appreciative of everything that comes the council's way. "I was so pleased that they could see the value of our services," she said of the Decatur council's bolstered donation. "I was just very, very thankful that they saw fit to do it."
    Dollar stretching seems likely to become even more difficult in the years ahead. Everything one reads and hears tells us that people are living longer and federal dollars are becoming much more difficult to come by. So it's all too obvious that essential services such as transportation for the elderly will become ever more reliant on the dollars it gets from "home."