Health Connections coach may hit northern roads this year
Northern Ontario residents may soon have access to a transportation service that aims to make travelling to out-of-town medical appointments more comfortable.
Pacific Western Transportation (PWT) and its Health Connections motor coach were in Greater Sudbury at Sudbury Community Arena in the back parking lot off Minto Street July 18 to promote and showcase the company’s plan to expand its services to northern Ontario.
The company hopes to be up and running in northern Ontario by the end of this year or early 2012.
“Finding a driver or driving yourself to medical appointments can be a stressful time for people,” Dean Wright, general manager at PWT, said.
“We want to help make those trips less stressful, more convenient, reliable and comfortable.”
Nickel Belt MPP and NDP Health and Long-Term Care critic France Gélinas was among those who toured the Health Connections bus.
“This service has great potential for Nickel Belt and all of northern Ontario,” Gélinas said. “There is a huge need for this type of service.”
The program would based on PWT’s current operations in British Columbia. That service began in 2006. The British Columbia program currently services 14 communities and delivered more than 10,000 people to medical appointments and back home in 2010. They started by serving four centres and moving 2,000 people.
PWT would offer a scheduled service and passengers would know of departure and arrival times for their community.
Interested people can call PWT and arrange a reservation.
The coach would pick people up at their local hospital and bring them directly to their destination out of town. The route has yet to be determined by PWT, but it would included the major Highway 17 corridor between the towns of Greater Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.
“Sudbury is an important piece geographically,” Wright said.
The Health Connections motor coach is a luxury model made by Prevost, a motor coach building company based in Quebec. It has been fitted to enhance the travelling experience for the patients.
The key features have been implemented to raise the quality of service for wheelchair patients. A track flooring system accommodates wheelchair and scooter passengers.
The bus seats can be reconfigured to fit eight people in wheelchairs. The washroom is also wheelchair accessible, and there is also a wheelchair lift.
The buses can hold up to 50 people, or 35 people and eight wheelchair passengers. The coach also features extensive entertainment options including DVDs, video screens, music players and standard electrical outlets to allow people to plug in their own medical or entertainment devices.
“It’s kind of unique,” Wright said. “Ease of use and convenience and comfort is what it is all about.”
Wright hopes to work with the province’s Northern Health Travel Grant so that most of the service’s cost is covered. He said he’s currently in talks with the province.
“This will be an affordable option,” he said.
“The British Columbia service is 80 to 90 percent funded by the provincial government and users pay a $20 fee to ride. It’s really cheap.”
Gélinas said she’s willing to roll up her sleeves to ensure the Northern Ontario Travel Grant funds the service.
“Things will need to change because there is another option available and a good one that will help a lot of people,” she said. “(If) there’s an opportunity to make things better for the people in the north. We should go for it.”
For more information about PWT, go to www.pwt.ca.