By Heather Ramsay-Queen Charlotte resident David Yasko was lucky he had friends on the mainland who picked him up from the Kitimat hospital after he was medivacced there for treatment and then stranded.
Mr. Yasko was sent by airplane to Prince Rupert on Feb. 8 and then by ambulance to Kitimat – with no coat and no wallet. So when he was discharged from hospital two days later, he was at a loss about what to do.
“I had no idea they just release you and you fend for yourself,” he said.
His friends, who live in Terrace, were nice enough to pick him up and drive him to Prince Rupert the next day, where he caught the float plane to Masset. His wife drove up to meet him there.
As for the Northern Health Connections bus, which transports patients around northern BC, Mr. Yasko said he had no idea it existed and was not told about it by any hospital staff.
Situations like this make North Coast MLA Gary Coons very troubled.
“I have a real concern about the bus being available for (island) residents,” he said.
He also thinks the bus may work for mainlanders who need to get to appointments, but it is not an appropriate service for getting medivacced islanders back to the Queen Charlottes.
He wrote a letter saying as much to Northern Health in response to comments Dr. David Butcher made in a Jan. 25 Observer article about the bus being there for people returning from other hospitals.
“The bus may get a patient back to Prince Rupert, but it definitely doesn’t get them to the Charlottes!” he wrote.
Mr. Coons wants to know if Northern Health believes sending a patient who undergoes surgery in Vancouver on an 11.5 hour bus ride to Prince George, and then on another 11 hour ride to Prince Rupert (plus the ferry to the islands) is appropriate.
He invited the provincial Minister of Health to take a trip on the bus from Vancouver to Prince Rupert for a first-hand experience. Mr. Coons says the minister said yes, but has yet to actually follow up on his commitment.
“It is a long way for someone not in the best of health,” Mr. Coons said.
Sean Hardiman, manager of the Connections Program, which has been up and running for eight months, said developing a transportation service in the North was not without its challenges.
He first approached airlines to see if they would provide a better rate for medical travellers and was not successful. With $4-million in funding for the Northern Health region, he was hoping to contract with airlines, but after the bid was advertised, he received no responses. His calls to Air Canada and Pacific Coastal were not returned.
In the end, northerners got the bus, which he says is now covering 15 routes with 600 to 700 passengers a month. Eight people from the islands have used the bus, he said.
The buses are not full, but he is encouraged by the growing number of passengers.
In terms of getting people to the Queen Charlottes, Mr. Hardiman said he tried to make the bus schedule match the ferry schedule, but after much back and forth and good will between Northern Health and BC Ferries, it just didn’t work out.
As for Mr. Yasko’s situation, he said he can’t speak to the case specifically, but generally, hospitals have social workers and discharge planners to help patients get home.
He did admit that it is an ongoing challenge to ensure all Northern Health staff are aware of the bus service.
Mr. Yasko’s wife Marlene said she also had difficulty dealing with the Travel Assistance Program. She was told she could get a discount for her husband’s travel back to the islands, but after navigating through the numerous options on the phone system, could not find mention of the seaplane service in Masset.
The system said Harbour Air accepted TAPS forms, but made no mention of North Pacific Seaplanes. She found out later that this company used to be Harbour Air.
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