A partnership between VON (Victorian Order of Nurses) Antigonish and Antigonish Community Transit (ACT) is helping to offset the costs of traveling to medical appointments, for community members in Antigonish town and county.
Community support co-ordinator with VON Antigonish, Dayna Overmars, said the program, titled Community Subsidy Transportation Program, fills a gap that was recognized a couple of years ago.
“So we applied last year to [Municipality of the County of Antigonish] for a transportation subsidy,” Overmars said.
“We wanted to be innovative in creating a program that meets the needs of our community but, without, reinventing the wheel. We looked at more urban spaces to see what they did to help people who may be from a lower income or live in more remote areas; what was helping them get to medical appointments they might not, otherwise, be able to access.”
That research resulted in the subsidy idea.
“In large inner cities you might have a taxi chit or they would help offset the cost of a bus pass,” she said.
“So we partnered with Antigonish Community Transit to say ‘if we received this grant, would you be keen on partnering?’ And what we would do is, essentially, buy taxi chits. The fund amount we received in credit for transportation, then we would offset the cost for community members who couldn’t, otherwise, make appointments.”
ACT general manager Dale Bogle said the program, which started last spring, has been “very successful.”
“It’s the only one of this nature in the province, so good on Dayna and VON for reaching out,” Bogle said.
“It really speaks to rural independence. The cycle is, always, after a certain time, age, health and whatnot, you have to abandon your home and move close to a bigger area. Now, with a transportation program like this, you can be more independent in a rural setting, much longer. This really speaks to it a lot, and not only here, but throughout the province. It addresses the erosion of rural communities; transportation is one of the key factors.”
Overmars noted they started up the program immediately after receiving the support from the county last spring, and want to get the word out more now, because it has been established.
“It has been very successful and is certainly gaining momentum,” she said.
“We’re getting a lot more referrals from social workers at hospitals and continuing care. People who are recognizing that for a lot of their clients, or people in the community they’re working with, the inability to meet their health needs can be traced to a lack of transportation … they’re not able to, necessarily, make those appointments.
“Certainly we are identifying it causes a lot of stress for individuals. I get calls from people who are rambling because they’re so worried about making these appointments, especially at this time of the year. When we’re talking about seniors, often they’re relying on their senior neighbours to drive them in and when weather conditions start to diminish, those options are not there because people are not comfortable being on the road.”
That discomfort extends to VON volunteers who act as drivers on occasions.
“Our volunteers will go and pick people up and take them to medical appointments, but in the winter months, a lot of our volunteers aren’t comfortable traveling out as far as Georgeville, which is understandable. So it makes providing that transportation a challenge.”
Transportation is not a problem for ACT; it’s what they’re all about.
“The growth we’re experiencing is unbelievable,” Bogle said.
“Our ridership in 2015 was 5,349 and it grew to 12,686 in 2016 and 2017 numbers we don’t have definitive just yet but they’re more than 30,000. This is a service line we’re working with that really fills a need.”
For more on the program or its partners, check out the organizations’ respective websites or contact Overmars at 902-863-2547 or Day[email protected], or Bogle at 902-867-0411 or [email protected]