Today’s seniors are more mobile than generations before and those living in assisted living, CCRC and even long-term care (LTC) settings need and want to get out into their communities. Getting residents where they need to go is important to keep current customers and their families satisfied and guide potential residents to choose your facility. It is, therefore, in the best interest of any senior living operation to offer a robust transportation program with the right vehicles.
And, while most senior living facilities already offer some kind of transportation, there are some indications that it might be time to upgrade or replace your vehicles. One of these indicators is the changing needs of your residents. Have their conditions become more acute since the last time you evaluated transportation? Are there more mobility issues than when you first purchased your vehicle(s)? Also consider the outward appearance of your vehicle. Because it represents your operation to the public, it is important that your vans or buses look modern and safe. Not yet ready to upgrade your fleet? Vehicle wraps provide an instant facelift and can improve your image.
BUY OR LEASE?
Of course, there are many options when it comes to how to offer transportation. Purchasing and leasing are the two most common options, and each has its own benefits.
Purchasing eliminates the overhead of vehicle payments and saves money on interest. Leasing, however, provides benefits such as the availability of replacement vehicles during times of maintenance and repairs as well as the option to replace or upgrade the vehicle sooner. If you do choose to purchase, look for a dealer that offers generous standard warranties of at least five years or 100,000 miles. Most important (especially when purchasing a used vehicle), be sure that the van or bus’s features are compliant with the most current ADA and state regulations.
When the Francis E. Parker Memorial Home launched its Parker Adult Day Center in Highland Park, N.J. recently, the company knew that transportation would be integral to the success of the program, according to Parker President Roberto Muñiz. Parker’s assisted living and LTC programs already operated their own vehicles, which, says Muñiz, has helped keep residents happily connected to their communities, shuttling seniors to everything from doctor’s appointments and religious services to theater visits and monthly restaurant tours. Such robust programming, in turn, says Muñiz, has served as a point of differentiation for Parker in the marketplace.
Seventy percent of the participants in Parker’s Adult Day Care program utilize Parker’s transportation. “It is much too difficult for most families to arrange their own transportation,” he says. A separate fee is not charged for transportation, but the costs are built into the regular fees. But Parker’s experience executing transportation for the program illustrates the most difficult aspects of this feature of senior living administration. “Scheduling and mapping the routes is the most difficult aspect because of different preferences for pick-up times and regulations as to how long passengers can be in the vehicle before they reach their destination,” says Muñiz.
Another challenge was finding the right person to drive the bus and handle the sometimes difficult circumstances associated with dementia patients, who make up the majority of the day care’s clients. “These are often fragile individuals in a hard situation. The right driver must be caring and trustworthy and have the ability to communicate well with the passenger and the families. It is hard, we found, to acquire that type of individual,” says Muñiz.
IS A TRANSPORT PARTNER THE WAY TO GO?
An alternative to buying or leasing is to partner with a third party for transportation, just as you would contract linen services, foodservice, security or housekeeping. Joe Rubino, principal, J.M. Rubino Transit Consulting, says this option is not given enough consideration by operators of senior living facilities. There are two reasons for this, says Rubino: “We all drive cars, so we think, ‘this is simple!’”
Moreover, transportation is often an afterthought, overlooked in the facility’s original business plan. The resultant, “Let’s buy a van” decision can be a mistake, says Rubino.
“You have to consider the actual cost of operating your own transportation,” Rubino advises. Expenses include insurance, claim payouts, the cost of the driver beyond his or her salary (Worker’s compensation insurance, payroll taxes, training, benefits and other expenses can add up to 35 percent of the driver’s salary), vehicle maintenance and repairs and, of course, fuel.
Instead, Rubino suggests that you consider contracting transportation to a third party. Businesses such as Provide-A-Ride and others exist in all but the smallest rural markets. (You can find a list from your local transportation regulatory agency.) “The cost for these services, if you have a long-term contract, is lower than you think,” he says, often just two or three dollars per person per mile. Also, such organizations will usually work out a flat monthly fee to take your residents to doctor’s appointments, shopping trips and outings.
The bottom line: “Make sure you are comparing apples to apples and really look at what owning or leasing your own vehicle will cost you,” Rubino advises.
Gina LaVecchia Ragone is a freelance writer in Cleveland.