Transport service in need of support

NANAIMO – Woman wants to raise awareness about an Island-wide transportation service to medical appointments.

A Nanaimo woman wants to raise awareness about an Island-wide transportation service to medical appointments in light of the fact it is in need of donations to continue.

Harewood resident Peggy Lake only recently heard about Comox-based Wheels for Wellness Society, which uses 16 vehicles and volunteer drivers to transport thousands of Island patients per year to non-emergency medical appointments in other communities.

She is using the service for the first time on April 2 for a follow-up appointment with her Victoria surgeon – she recently had surgery to fix a slipped disc in her back.

Lake, who is on disability assistance, said taking the bus to Victoria is expensive for people on assistance, and the Wheels for Wellness service, which picks patients up right from their door and drops them at their appointments, is by donation and people pay what they can.

“There’s not a lot of extra money, so I’m grateful they have that service,” she said. “I want everybody to know the service is out there, it could be used more and it’s a wonderful thing. I don’t think a lot of people know about it.”

Lake said she was told that the organization is in need of donations to continue and hopes to raise awareness about the existence of the service so that more people will use it and donate.

Don Buchner, the society’s executive director and founder, confirmed the group is in need of more donations.

He said the society has struggled to make ends meet for the past couple of years – a contract with the Vancouver Island Health Authority provides about 40 per cent of the money needed to run the service, with the remainder made up by donations – and he expects to end the year about $50,000 in debt, despite the health authority recently coming up with another $50,000 to help out.

“Just before Christmas this year I was looking at going into my own bank reserves,” he said. “We’re OK now until probably the end of December, but we need more donations.”

The service, which began in 1997 and has contracted with VIHA since 2005, provides transportation for anyone who needs it to and from medical appointments that are farther than 75 kilometres from their residence.

Harder financial times have forced the society to cut trips to Vancouver and while the group will pick up anyone in communities along the main highway going from Port Hardy to Victoria and also from Port Alberni, residents wanting to go north are now out of luck because the group needs to keep vans as full as possible to continue operating, said Buchner.

Anyone who wants to help out can send donations to 1894 Bolt Avenue, Comox, B.C., V9M 2J4.

For more information about the service, please visit the group’s website at www.wheelsforwellness.com or call 1-250-338-0196.