Manatee paratransit operator state's 2013 Driver of the Year

vmannix@bradenton.comSeptember 5, 2013 

BRADENTON

Patricia Adams racks up some serious mileage driving hither and yon in her Manatee County Area Transit Handy Bus.

Some days it's more than 300 miles.

Duette. Longboat Key. Palmetto. Parrish. Myakka City.

"I go everywhere," Adams said.

It's long day for her, rising at 5:30 a.m. and sometimes not getting home until 12 hours later.

Adams isn't complaining, understand.

"Best job I ever had," said the 42-year-old grandmother and former school bus driver, who once cleaned people's homes, too.

Her professional contentment got the state's attention.

Adams was named 2013 Driver of the Year by the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged over top paratransit operators nominated from Florida's 66 other counties.

"A nice surprise," Adams said.

A paratransit driver operates vehicles designed to safely transport passengers with physical, emotional or developmental disabilities. MCAT has 22 such drivers.

"You have to have a big heart, patience and understanding," supervisor Ellen Szipocs said. "It's not a job for everyone."

It is for Adams.

The Southeast High School alum has been doing it six years, safely

transporting 30 to 40 people daily to physical therapy, dialysis, doctors appointments and facilities such as Easter Seals Southwest Florida, United Cerebral Palsy and Manasota Lighthouse for the Blind.

Some riders are wheelchair-bound, which requires Adams placing them on a mechanized lift into the bus, then securing them with safety belts.

"It's a lot of pushing and pulling, but it's OK," she said. "I treat my clients like they're my family, because one day, I might need that same service."

It's more than a job.

It's a mission for Adams.

"Make their day a little better, make them feel loved, ask them how they're feeling, how's their day going?" Adams said. "I always remember their name, their face and where they live."

That TLC makes a difference. Take it from Angie Pollack.

"It's very important to have somebody like that who cares, is attentive to their needs and knows what they're doing," said the director of life skills development at Easter Seals. "Even though our adults have all different types of disabilities, they can pick up on our emotions and body language and it can rub off positively on them."

Adams has demonstrated her specialized training in emergencies, too. For example:

• When the engine began smoking during one trip, she evacuated the bus, shut it down and kept her passengers calm until the danger passed -- there was no fire -- and another bus arrived.

• When a client didn't come to the door on a scheduled pickup, Adams entered the apartment, found the person unconscious, called 911 and stayed until medical help arrived.

Fortunately, such crises have been rare.

Just about every day is a good day for Adams, driving folks to social services or medical facilities or training centers.

So what if the first pickup is at 7 a.m. sharp?

"I look forward to it," she said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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