Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The wheels on the bus won’t go round and round

Northern Health Connections traveling medical bus will be taking a two week break over Christmas, from Saturday, December 22 to Saturday, January 5.

Leaving those that have come to depend on the service linking Prince Rupert with Terrace, Prince George and beyond on their own.

Suggesting that the timing coincides with what they call a slow season, when specialist offices are closed and patients may not wish to have elective procedures take place.

The downtime will see training programs put into place for the staff and maintenance plans put in place for the buses, leaving the customers/patients to take a break as well staying close to home for the holidays if at all possible.

The Daily News featured the bus break as its front page story in Tuesday’s paper.

NH Connections set for two-week break, patients may need to make other plans
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Pages one and three

Northern Health is hoping everyone has a healthy Christmas, because if you get sick, you’re not going anywhere on the health authority’s bus.

Northern Health announced Wednesday that their NH Connections medical travel services program will be shut down for two weeks this holiday season. The full service will operate up to and including Sat., Dec 22 and restart again on Sat. Jan 5.

The break will commence for a period that Northern Health says is a very slow period in health services, for providers and patients.

Specialist offices are often closed down during these two weeks, and many patients choose not to have elective procedures during Christmas time when they can spend time at home with family and friends. The break also gives NH Connections drivers time off to be with their families during the festive season.

“We generally run for 50 of 52 weeks a year, and this just seemed the most logical time to do a bit of slow down,” said Mark Karjaluoto, Northern Health director of communications.

“It gives us time to do some additional staff training and maintenance to the buses. We did it last year and I don’t think there was a substantial problem with it.”
During the two weeks that all 15 connector routes in Northern BC are shut down, the BC Ambulance Service will continue to transport patients with emergency health needs.

The NH Connections service is now a year and a half old, and although the program has taken a while to grow, the service is being utilized now more than ever. In its first year of operation, 4,500 people in total used the service, compared to the 700 people in October and more than 800 people in November who traveled for medical appointments.

Before NH Connections, there was some provincial government help in negotiating lower cost fares for people traveling to receive medical treatment. Although Air Canada has pulled the plug on such discount, BC Ferries does provide low cost rates or even free passenger travel rates to those people travelling for medical purposes, under the provincial Travel Assistance Program.

“Before NH Connections, we didn’t have big coach and min buses crossing the North,” said Karjaluoto.

“There really was nothing there and people were very much left to their own devices to find their way to medical services. Ridership is up and the service is going in the right direction, and it is getting the desired results.

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