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Whether it's door-to-door or curb-to-curb service, elder care transportation is emerging as one of the most popular work/family benefits for employees who are the primary caregivers for aging parents or other older adults.

To help meet the growing need for transportation associated with elder care, the American Collaboration for Quality Dependent Care, a national coalition of 22 member companies, is helping to create a national escorted transportation model. This plan would serve as a guide to establish additional elder transportation programs in communities where employees of Collaboration companies live and work. Through the Collaboration's support to date, elder care transportation programs already exist in several cities across the country.

Employee focus groups reveal that families already provide 80% of the care older adults require, said Phyllis Bailey, group manager-elder care development for WFD, a Boston-based consulting firm formerly known as Work/Family Directions.

One-third of the caregiving time is spent transporting the older person to medical appointments and other necessary destinations, Ms. Bailey said. Because the transportation is needed mostly during business hours, employees miss work, frequently with little advance notice to their employer, she said.

About 10 million older adults don't drive and many are reluctant to take taxis or use public transportation alone, according to Ms. Bailey.

"Family is the primary option an elder adult has to fulfill his transportation needs," Ms. Bailey said.

WFD helps companies in the Collaboration structure work/

family benefit programs suited to their employees' needs. Ms. Bailey said the Collaboration's goal is to make the most of the members' collective resources.

In September 1995, the Collaboration pledged $100 million through the year 2000 to initiate and support elder care and child care programs in communities throughout the United States where their employees live and work. The Collaboration got its start in 1992 with an initial commitment of $25 million.

"The premise behind the Collaboration is that more can be accomplished together than alone," Ms. Bailey said.

Skip Schlenk, director of AT&T Family Care Development Fund in Morristown, N.J., said AT&T supported elder care projects prior to joining the Collaboration in 1992. Through participation in this employer group, AT&T is able to offer escorted transportation services to elderly dependents of employees in several major metropolitan areas, with more on the horizon.

"Because we can do so much more together than any one of us can do alone," elder care transportation is one of those projects that lends itself to the Collaboration's efforts very well, Ms. Schlenk said. "If one company spent all of its resources, it wouldn't even cover the (transportation) issue, but by leveraging resources, we can provide comprehensive services."

One of AT&T's goals is to assist its employees at work and to help them balance their responsibilities at the office and at home, she said. "Escorted transportation helps lower absenteeism and reduce stress but also provides peace of mind," Ms. Schlenk said.

According to Ms. Bailey, the national model on elder escorted transportation would be flexible, viable and affordable both for the transportation provider and the user in order to meet all of an older adult's transportation needs. "Transportation is routinely used for doctor visits and treatments, but the next step is to make it widely available for shopping, visiting friends, and adult education," Ms. Bailey said. "We want the programs to be as flexible as possible."

Older adults' transportation needs may entail door-to-door service, where the provider actually accompanies them to the doctor's office, or curb-to-curb service, where the provider lets them off at the front door and returns when the individual is ready to go home.

In addition to developing national guidelines, Collaboration resources are being used to expand existing programs by finding transportation providers and recruiting and training those who drive and escort older adults.

Once the program is established in a community, elderly dependents of employees of Collaboration companies can call on these transportation providers whenever they require transportation.

Usually, there is a nominal fee, but no one is denied transportation service if he or she cannot afford to pay, Ms. Bailey said. In addition to helping the programs become self-sustaining, the fees allow older adults to have the satisfaction of making a contribution to their own well-being.

In communities where reliable elder care transportation already is established, providers are making upwards of 10,000 trips a year, with the average between 3,000 and 4,000 annually, Ms. Bailey said. If such services were unavailable, the onus would be on the employee, who would miss a minimum of one hour and often a half-day of work for each trip.

"It's easy to figure out how much work time is saved when a viable alternative exists to meet an elder adult's transportation needs," Ms. Bailey said.

Developing benefits such as elder care transportation that meet employees' needs is key to long-term retention, Ms. Bailey said. "Employees want the option for flexibility to do the right thing by their company and by their family," she said.

For the employee, elder transportation programs help them care for older adults, reduce workday disruptions and improve productivity.

"If employees feel that they don't have to choose between job and Mom, they will be less stressed and 100% productive," Ms. Bailey said.

Dallas-based Texas Instruments Inc. joined the Collaboration's efforts in 1995, according to Betty Purkey, manager of work/life programs. She said an internal needs assessment revealed that elder care was a growing concern among the 20,000 employees in the Dallas area.

"The need is there and it's growing," Ms. Purkey said. "From 1993 to 1996, there was a threefold increase in the number of employees actively doing elder care. The percentage increased from 9% to 27%."

In addition to reducing employee interruptions and improving productivity, escorted transportation benefits older adults by enabling them to maintain their independence and remain in their own homes, she said.

"Parents have a level of guilt associated with pulling their child away from work to provide transportation," Ms. Purkey said. "It's less stressful on them if their transportation needs can be met another way."