[b]Company takes patients to TO appointments[/b]
[b]By CAROL MULLIGAN, THE SUDBURY STAR[/b]
[b]Updated 21 days ago[/b]
Pacific Western Transportation will introduce what it calls safe, reliable, stress-free transportation to medical appointments in other communities when it rolls its Health Connections bus into Sudbury on Monday.
The service started in northern B.C. at the request of the provincial government, said Dean Wright, general manager of PWT.
It has operated there for five years, contracted by the B.C. government, delivering people to medical appointments in many cities and towns.
Wright and his company are gauging the interest of people in Northern Ontario cities such as North Bay, Timmins and Sudbury for medical bus service.
Unlike regular bus transportation, Health Connections would leave a central medical centre, such as Sudbury Regional Hospital, and deliver patients to medical appointments at multiple drop-off locations in Toronto. Other cities such as Ottawa could be added to the service if the need is demonstrated.
The 45-foot vehicle is described as a luxury motor coach that has the only wheelchair accessible washroom on a highway coach in North America, said Wright.
The bus can accommodate eight people in wheelchairs and they can ride in comfort.
Drivers would be trained in first aid.
In British Columbia, the government pays 80 to 90% of the cost of a return trip to a medical appointment and riders make up the difference. An average cost of $20 might apply to each leg of a medical journey, said Wright.
Wright said PWT has had several discussions with the Ontario government about provincial funding. Some money could come from the Northern Health Travel Grant program.
Wright was in Sault Ste. Marie on Tuesday, where he said many interested people came by to view the bus and find out more about the service.
PWT will park its Health Connections bus in front of the Sudbury Community Arena on Elgin Street from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday.
The ser vice would offer online booking to make travelling easier for people.
Ridership in B.C. has grown from about 2,000 riders a year in 2005 to 10,000 last year, said Wright.
Surveys by people who have used Health Connections indicated 95% of them were happy with the service.
The service has proven valuable to seniors, people who don't drive or residents who don't wish to risk poor winter driving conditions.
If enough people express interest in using the service, it could be operating in a short time, said Wright.