The Town of North Hempstead’s innovative “aging in place” initiative, Project Independence, has been expanded with an important new service that enables seniors to obtain taxi service to and from non-emergency medical visits at a nominal cost.
The program, announced at the Great Neck Senior Center on Monday, Feb. 1, gets underway on April 1.
At the same time, Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman announced that the popular Shopping Transportation Initiative, which provides free transportation for seniors by taxi, will be expanded town-wide, beginning Feb. 16.
These are two of the dozens of services available to seniors through Project Independence, aimed at improving the quality of life of seniors 60 years and older.
“In its relatively short life,” Mr. Kaiman said, “Project Independence has already brought peace of mind to scores of families by helping senior relatives continue to live safely and independently in the community of their choice by giving them access to an array of services. Adding this medical transportation component will only enhance an already remarkable program.”
The non-emergency medical transportation program, which is funded in part by a grant from New York State Senator Craig Johnson, will provide participants with transportation to and from doctors, dentists and outpatient treatment appointments.
“This will improve an already great program that has helped many North Hempstead seniors continue to live independently and with dignity in their own homes,” said Senator Craig M. Johnson in a statement. “I’m proud to have secured the funding that allows Supervisor Kaiman and the Town Board to expand this very important initiative.
Organized in conjunction with participating local taxi companies, the program brings down the cost of a taxi ride for a senior substantially. A ride that might cost $15 one-way would cost the senior just $5 because of the negotiated discount with the cab company that would bring the price down to $9.50, and the town’s subsidy of half the remaining cost.
To arrange the pick-up, the senior would call the town’s 311 line, at least the day before, and be immediately connected to Project Independence coordinators. At the same time, the senior would be given a local cab company’s number to call for the return trip.
Mr. Kaiman said that the visits are not restricted to within the town, noting that North Shore-Long Island Jewish is technically in Queens.
The participating taxi companies had to meet the town’s safety standards, be part of Project Independence, accept the Medicaid rate and be subjected to background checks.
The medical transportation program will be well received by local emergency services, which in the past have complained about seniors calling 911 and using ambulances to go for routine medical visits, costing the public $800 to $900 a trip, compared to $7 or $8 for a taxi, Supervisor Kaiman noted.
“Seniors had been asking for medical visits assistance,” Mr. Kaiman said. “It is the single most important need. It is expensive to take a taxi and hard to take the bus.”
So far, the passengers need to pay in cash, but there is an effort underway to allow payment by credit card.
With North Hempstead’s senior population growing – residents aged 75-84 increased 40% while those older than 85 increased 60%, according to the last national census- the Town developed Project Independence to help support and empower seniors by providing an array of services through partnerships with government, service providers, businesses and the local community.
Project Independence presently operates from three sites within the town: New Hyde Park, where it began with a pilot program; the Great Neck Senior Center and the Port Washington Senior Center. The long term plan is to establish a total of eight locations throughout the Town.
It is staffed to respond to requests for assistance ranging from blood pressure or diabetes screening, to information on health and fitness, support groups and counseling. Community-based education seminars, volunteer opportunities and other services are also available.
Through the program – accessed through North Hempstead’s 311 Call Center – seniors also have access to social workers, nurses, community advocates and other professionals. These professional staffers are in touch with a vast network of agencies, businesses and other institutions within the town which can provide the necessary assistance.
The Project Independence staff works with and is in close contact with community-based advisory councils in each program location and with the health-care partner in the program, North Shore-LIJ and several social service partners.
For example, Project Independence personnel, reached through 311, can put the senior in contact with Meals on Wheels, United Way.
In the future, it is hoped to also be a liaison for seniors to handymen, which is another service for which seniors, often too uncomfortable to call on their own, have expressed need.
Also in the works, is a Project Independence website; presently, the agency is reached through the town’s website, www.northhempsteadny.gov.
At the ceremony announcing the new medical transportation component, Mr. Kaiman noted that Project Independence is an innovative program, designed for a suburban community, that was “a unique compilation of the best practices across the country.”
Up until the town implemented Project Independence, the essential program – known as a “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community” – was only utilized in narrow urban settings, and not applied to a sprawling suburban community. But Madge Kaplan, who was then a Commissioner, suggested that the concept be applied to a suburban setting.
It began with a grant as a pilot program two years ago in two census tracts of New Hyde Park. It went town-wide last year when the program could be “married” with the 311 program.
Through the town’s Townstat program, a management technology which collects data on every call to 311 to assess needs and how queries are handled, Mr. Kaiman also could give a profile of how Project Independence has been utilized.
Last year, the year when it began to be implemented beyond the New Hyde Park pilot program, there were 1,500 calls through 311; 670 home visits arranged; 430 blood pressure screenings; 2,000 seniors participated in informational programs. In addition, there were 1,970 social work “units” logged, “and we were just getting started,” he said. “We expect we will go into the thousands and thousands.”
Mr. Kaiman said that the town would do another needs assessment this year “to analyze senior population needs in the community.”
Project Independence has an active Advisory Board who contribute ideas.
Joann Farley is one of the members. She noted that her husband, Tom, has Parkinsons and faces many obstacles. “One of the first things that we dealt with was transportation, a big thing for seniors.” The cost of arranging trips, often several times a week, to various medical services takes its toll on a fixed income.
Project Independence, however, is available to all seniors in the Town age 60 and older, with no income or geographical eligibility limit. ‘You can be 70 years old in a $2 million house when the lights go out, or suffering from a medical issue,” Mr. Kaiman said. “This is a support network.”
So far, Project Independence has been principally funded through grants, including $300,000 in federal funding. The new medical transportation program, which also is subsidized through a grant obtained by Sen. Johnson, will still cost the town about $100,000.
However, Mr. Kaiman noted, the program will enable the Town to phase out inefficient buses that have been carrying three or four passengers, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars, for a net savings to the town while improving service to seniors.
Meanwhile, the Town is purchasing new buses that are smaller and hybrids, also using federal grant funding.
“The seniors today helped grow the schools, the services we enjoy. It is incumbent upon us to give back when we can make a real difference in their quality of life,” Mr. Kaiman said.
The program also hooks up seniors with recreational programs, like golf and swimming, that contribute to a healthy lifestyle, and figured in the Town of North Hempstead being named second, after Anaheim on CNN/Money Magazine’s Top 25 Healthiest Places to Retire.
North Hempstead also was named by CNN/Money in an earlier survey as being among the top 100 Places to Live.
Town Clerk Leslie Gross lauded the local taxi companies who have come aboard, negotiated discount rates with the town, and also comply with stringent safety standards.
Town Councilman Angelo P. Ferrara complimented “Jon for a graet effort in a difficult financial time, to give the best services to our community.”
Sitting in the audience for the announcement was former Memphis, Tennessee, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., who was on a listening tour of New York State to assess a run for the U.S. Senate.
“This is not more government, but better government,” he commented. “This is an example of government listening to the people, an example of innovation and cooperation of the different sectors of government. It is a great example of when public sector works with the private sector, great things can happen.”