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Dialysis patients seek transportation as Nelson-to-Trail medical bus ends

Interior Health says it will work with five Nelson-area dialysis patients to get them to their appointments in Trail once the bus they have been using stops running.

The patients are scrambling to find alternative transportation after learning Nelson CARES will no longer offer a bus to the regional hospital.

The service was launched a year ago, providing local residents with a more affordable way to get to the hospital. It provided trips on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for a round-trip fare of $35.

But Millie Harper, who has been riding it twice a week, says Nelson CARES told them funding for the program has run out, and starting next week they will have to find alternate arrangements.

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“We have to get a new way to go to Trail,” she said. “It’s not that easy. Other people charge three times the amount of money. The only one really is a gentleman from Castlegar who charges $110 to $190 return.”

Harper says other patients rely on spouses or friends to drive them, which is also costly. But there is no choice. They are not able to miss appointments, even if they are sick.

“Being that this is a life-threatening thing, we do have to go. We’re looking for a new way to get there and hopefully get some new funding for the bus to take us there.”

Harper says those using the bus are on fixed incomes and can ill-afford to pay more for transportation. Her bill would go from $280 per month to $880, and for those making the trip three times a week, from $420 per month to $1,320 per month.

While conventional transit is considerably cheaper, it would be less convenient, adding several more hours each day. As it is, the bus picks people up at 6 a.m. and goes to Trail, where patients spend four hours on dialysis, and then returns to Nelson about 2 p.m.

“Right now it’s a dilemma for all of us,” Harper said, adding that there is a group of volunteer drivers, but only if they are available.

Donna Janson, Interior Health’s renal program director, says they are looking at ways of getting Harper and other patients to Trail using existing services.

She said she was glad the concern was brought to her attention and acknowledged it as a burden for people already facing the burden of chronic disease. She said her team has discussed using the Health Connections bus through BC Transit.

“I’ve asked our renal team to reach out to those people travelling on that Nelson CARES supported bus to understand their needs and we can ensure there is support available with existing services,” she said.

“They may not be aware of them, or there may be barriers we need to help work through to access those services.”

Trail is the regional centre for renal services in the Kootenay-Boundary while community units exist in Grand Forks and Creston.

Janson said has spoken with advocacy groups in Nelson and is frequently asked a renal unit could be added to the hospital there. While nothing is in the works, she said the health authority frequently looks at service needs and demands in the region.

To be sustainable, outpatient services require a sufficient population base and a specialist, she said. But provincially, renal care is shifting toward earlier interventions and in-home dialysis service, making it unnecessary for patients to travel at all.

We have asked Nelson CARES for comment as well.

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