By Tammy Daniels
05:35PM / Tuesday, March 20, 2018
The two Nissan Rogues were branded with each Council on Aging logo and Fallon Health's graphic.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Adams and Lee Councils on Aging took possession of two shiny copper-colored Nissan Rogues on Tuesday, courtesy of Fallon Health
The gifts, along with a number of "big checks," is the health insurance provider's way of supporting the community, said Richard P. Burke, president and CEO.
"We think it's important to support the communities within which we offer our products and services," he said as recipients of this year's Fallon Health grants admired the pair of sport-utility vehicles parked outside the offices of Elder Services of Berkshire County. "It's our way of getting to know the community. It's a way of giving back to the community."
Erica Girgenti, executive director of the Adams Council on Aging, said the generous gift will allow the COA to expand its services.
"[It] is really going to be able to help us hopefully reach out to our neighboring communities of Cheshire and Savoy and expand transportation to them," she said.
The Fallon Health grants were made at a luncheon at Elder Services to recognize that agency, the two Councils on Aging, Berkshire Health Systems and Western Massachusetts Labor Action. Both COAs received $3,000 grants and Berkshire Health Systems, $5,000. BHS had also received $10,000 for Operation Better Start at the Boys & Girls Club of Pittsfield.
The Worcester-based non-profit provider says it's the only health plan that is both an insurer and a provider of care. It offers group and non-group health insurance options as well as a portfolio of services for senior citizens and Medicare programs. It has worked with both Community Health Plans and Berkshire Health Systems.
It donates about a $1 million a year, along with volunteer hours and in-kind services, within its service area.
The company has focused on hunger issues throughout the state, Burke said. "We have found through our own experience that food insecurity is a major issue in our nation and it's a major issue across Massachusetts.
"We are committed to it. We have donated, really, millions of dollars over several years to hunger relief efforts."
Fallon has donated to food causes in the Berkshires but discovered there was another hurdle for some older residents.
"As we began to become more familiar with Berkshire County, we learned that transportation is a very serious challenge, particularly for elders who have medical appointments and who don't have easy access to public transportation," Burke said. "We thought it made a lot of sense to contribute vehicles to a couple of Councils on Aging and they're going to use these very effectively ...
"We're really excited and pleased to do that. "
Girgenti is fully aware of the problems of getting from here to there, having spent some time sitting on a number of local committees addressing transportation.
"There's a huge need in Berkshire County in particular for long-distance medical assistance as well as the other gaps we see in transportation," she said. "We really think this vehicle is going to give us the opportunity to reach some of the more difficult houses in our neighborhoods."
There are dirt roads and driveways where the all-wheel drive Rogue will come in handy — and when an eight-seater van and a lift will not. Plus, the two vans that the Adams COA leases from the Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority can't leave the Berkshires. Yet there may be cases when a senior citizen needs to get to get to a medical appointment in Springfield, or Albany, N.Y., or Bennington, Vt.
"Being in a community bordered by so many different states, this vehicle is really going to give us the opportunity to travel," Girgenti said. "Being able to utilize this vehicle will now allow us to provide that personal touch where our driver can go in with the person, get them to their medical appointment ... Just navigating a parking lot in a major hospital can be overwhelming let alone having to go for an appointment for a heart condition."