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Cuts cause driver shortage for Commission on Aging

December 24, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Due to state funding cuts, Washington County senior citizens without transportation may find themselves waiting to get a ride to the doctor.

The Washington County Commission on Aging recently lost four of its 13 part-time drivers and there's no money in the budget to replace them, said Belinda Corbett, supportive services specialist.

Drivers each week make 521 one-way trips, most of which involve delivering meals to senior citizens at home, she said.

People 60 and older without transportation also use the service to get groceries or go to doctor's appointments, she said.

Seniors pay $5 per trip or $7 if they require a wheelchair accessible van.

Because of the driver shortage, there's a longer wait for the service.

"If they have an appointment in June, call now," said Corbett, who said drivers are booked about a month in advance.

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Some drivers are working extra hours without pay to meet the demand, she said.

"They're a good bunch of people. They'll pitch in," she said.

Ronald Butts, 64, gets paid for 20 hours a week but said he finds himself driving up to 30 hours a week.

Butts took the job shortly after he retired two years ago from his job as a sheet metal factory worker at Danzer Industries in Hagerstown.

"I like working for senior citizens. They need somebody to talk to," he said.

The drivers are paid through a state grant. Recently, the state cut the number of positions it will fund at the agency, she said.

Corbett said she hopes the agency can find the money to hire more drivers.

According to the 2000 Census, there are 18,690 people in Washington County who are 65 and older.

Of those, 9.5 percent were living on incomes below the poverty level in 1999, Census figures show.

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