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March 20, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) --Raul was blind for four years due to diabetes.  He lives alone and couldn’t leave his house, walk to the store or do daily tasks.  Last winter he was very cold because he couldn’t see well enough to make a warm fire. 

With the help of Mountain Health’s Senior Transportation Program, Raul has been able to get to and from his doctor’s appointments including surgery for his eyes, and pick up his eye drops and diabetes medications.  Today, Raul can see 70% better in his right eye after having multiple surgeries.  He recently underwent surgery on his left eye that resulted in seeing shadows and light. 

Raul said, “Your program is God sent.  Without it, none of this would have happened.  It’s just a miracle!”  He has a better outlook on life and states with a huge smile on his face, “My future is looking brighter now that I can see my grandkids.”

Mountain Health has been serving the seniors in Mountain Empire and Alpine for many years.  With a grant from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), Mountain Health offers a senior and disabled transportation program.  The Senior Transportation Program is funded by the County’s TransNet sales tax.  Transportation has always been an issue in the back country with limited bus service and no taxi service.  Many seniors find it difficult to access basic services such as medical visits, picking up prescriptions and purchasing groceries.  Our current volunteers have provided hours of service transporting seniors in the back country.

It is difficult at times for our seniors to get “down the hill” because of rising gas costs and the lack of public transportation in the area.  Some of these seniors haven’t seen a doctor for four or five years.   Through the program, the seniors have also been able to sign up for social security benefits that they should have been paid for several years.  “This has become a valuable service that we can offer to our local seniors and persons of disability,” commented Julie Atherton, Senior Resource Coordinator at the Mountain Empire Community Center.

The volunteer drivers are finding the experience as valuable for them as for the seniors that they are transporting.  Many of the volunteers have stated that the rewards come from the smiles that they bring to their passengers and knowing how important the service is that they are providing.  Drivers are required to pass a background check, a basic physical, drug screen and a TB test.  This is paid for by Mountain Health with no cost to the volunteer.  They are also required to have a current driver’s license, registration and vehicle insurance with a DMV printout.  Volunteers are then matched with seniors and disabled persons to help them access essential services and other resources including medical, social services and shopping.  There is a reimbursement for each volunteer’s mileage through the SANDAG grant.  This program is available to older adults; age 60+ who are still living in their own home and disabled adults.

If you are interested in signing up as a volunteer driver, you can contact Julie Atherton at the Mountain Empire Community Center at (619) 478-2384 or at  If you would like to donate to Mountain Health, a non-profit 501(c) (3), please contact Carol Lewis at (619) 445-6200 x 165 or at  There is also a need to connect the program to seniors and disabled persons who would benefit.   Mountain Health knows the importance in keeping our seniors in their homes longer and living a healthy, independent life.  “We want to reach out to our communities and let them know that we care and can help,” concluded Ms. Atherton.

Mountain Health operates four federally-qualified community health centers throughout San Diego Co.  For an appointment at Alpine Family Medicine, you can call (619) 445-6200.  In addition, Mountain Health also has Mountain Empire Family Medicine in Campo.  Appointments can be made by contacting (619) 478-5311.  Construction on a new state-of-the-art health center will be beginning this year in Campo with a multitude of expanded services.

Photo- Volunteer driver, Judy Holland, assists Alice Stacey to her medical appointments and shopping.







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