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Transportation woes mount for patients

Brenda Snider, executive director for Volunteer and Information Quinte, said her organization is struggling to assist people in need of transportation to medical appointments as current services are stretched to their limits for volunteer drivers and excessive fuel costs. The double whammy has seriously impacted people in need of rides to important appointments, said Snider.

“The core issue is that we’re seeing an increasing number of individuals requiring transportation services that do not fall into any particular category,” said Snider.

One such individual is the 78-year-old mother of high school teacher Debbie Clare , Elizabeth MacLeod, who must travel to Kingston for a medical appointment later this month. While Clare has been able to secure transportation for her wheelchair-bound mother, it was a long, drawn-out process.

“My mom’s had a stroke so she is basically a quadriplegic,” she explained. “She requires 24-hour care and she is at Hastings Manor.”

Last year, MacLeod developed a sore on her back that was determined to be cancerous and of such a size that a plastic surgeon would have to remove it. The doctor forwarded MacLeod to a Kingston-based surgeon who will perform the necessary procedure later next week.

While Clare said she was happy to finally have an appointment for her mother, she had no idea how difficult it would be to get her there.

“I assumed the Manor would take her, but they don’t do that. I phoned different local agencies that the Manor said would probably provide wheelchair transportation, but one told me I wasn’t in their geographic area, another said because she wasn’t registered as a client they couldn’t take her, another agency said their volunteers do drive cancer patients, but they aren’t wheelchair accessible … It just went on and on,” she said.

Even options such as taking a train or borrowing someone’s vehicle proved futile as time concerns and medical needs created constraints. Using either a wheelchair bus or wheelchair-accessible taxi were also investigated but prices between $500 and $700 for a round-trip to Kingston were too high.

“I just thought things were getting a little outrageous,” Clare said. “I literally called 15 or 20 people and I even went to our MPP’s office and they, eventually, put me in touch with an agency who is able to take her.”

Despite securing transportation for her mother, Clare said there is no reason people in need of transportation for medical appointments should have to face such an uphill struggle.

“It just continued to be six or seven days of a few hours on the telephone trying to get this done,” she said. “How do people in a wheelchair that don’t have their own vehicle survive? How can they get anything done? It was such an eye opener throughout the whole thing.”

Clare said as she continued to be bounced back and forth from agency to agency she questioned why there isn’t a better system in place to take care of people in need of such transportation.

“I just thought the whole thing was overwhelming,” she said.

It can be, Snider concurred.

Clare’s story, sadly, is not unusual. Snider said her agency receives between three to four calls each week with residents sharing similar stories. While there are agencies out there many can’t meet the demand and there is a large gap left where many people fall.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t have the means or the finances to acquire needed transportation,” she said.

Snider explained many local residents often require medical care in Kingston and are forced to face the same battle Clare recently waged. However, even shorter trips such as travelling from Quinte West to Belleville can bring financial woes and hardships.

“It’s not that agencies don’t want to help, it’s that they can’t because they’re already overburdened,” she said. “Agencies have pulled together and have done what they need and what they can. It’s an issue that everybody knows is there but no one knows the solution.”

Snider, however, said there is a solution there if someone would step forward.

“The ideal solution would be if there was an organization that handled transportation for everyone,” she said. “But, who’s going to take that on and where does the funding come from?”

brice.mcvicar@sunmedia.ca