Free rides in Nanaimo for cancer treatment set to end

NANAIMO – The Canadian Cancer Society will end its Volunteer Driver Program in October. Freemasons continue to provide service to Victoria.

Mid-Island cancer patients could be left without free, short-distance rides with the closure of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Volunteer Driver Program next month.

The Canadian Cancer Society will end its free program Oct. 6, after 25 years shuttling patients.

The non-profit blames alternative services and a decline in ridership and donations for the decision to stop the program, which gave about 39 central Island patients 203 rides last year. Patients were picked up at their homes and taken to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital or pick up points for longer-distance rides to Victoria by other services, like the Freemasons Cancer Car Program.

The Freemasons program, of which the society is a partner, will continue and the society has provided a list of other area services including Better at Home and HandyDart that patients can turn to for transportation.

But none provide free, short-distance travel in the Harbour City.

“You’re right, those do have a cost to them,” said Sandra Krueckl, vice-president of cancer control for the Canadian Cancer Society’s B.C. and Yukon division. “That’s one of the things that makes decisions like this really difficult, to be perfectly honest, because we do know there are impacts to people.”

An increase in alternate services, declining use of the program and revenue shifts for the society means it can’t sustain everything it’s been doing, said Krueckl, who adds the society needs to make decisions to be good stewards of donor dollars.

Doug Sowden, coordinator for the Freemasons Cancer Car Program on Vancouver Island, said its service will continue to shuttle patients for free to and from the cancer clinic in Victoria, but the onus will be on patients to get to his program’s pick-up point.

“The Volunteer Driver Program that the cancer society was running, they would pick people up at the door in the morning and bring them to our pick up spot, one of which is Woodgrove,” he said. “What will have to happen now is that people will have to have family or neighbours or someone drive them to the pick up point.”

There are options to help people with transportation costs, including taxi saver vouchers and financial support through the cancer society. Please call the cancer society at 1-888-939-3333.

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