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Province announces expanded travel supports for rural cancer care

Wheels of Hope program, Hope Air network expanded in the Kootenays

The province has announced $20 million to expand medical travel supports for patients living in rural and remote communities.

The funding, shared $10 million each between the Canadian Cancer Society and Hope Air, will go towards their respective travel and patient assistance programs and come into effect by early October.

“When people who are diagnosed with cancer must travel to receive treatment, they deserve support every step of the way,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “That’s why government is partnering with the Canadian Cancer Society and Hope Air to expand their existing programs in B.C. that aim to support all facets of cancer patient travel.

“By providing grant funding to these two incredible charitable organizations, we are helping patients focus on receiving their cancer treatment at one of the six BC Cancer Centres or 41 community oncology network sites so they can get well as soon as possible.”

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Specific to the Kootenay region, the Canadian Cancer Society is expanding it’s Wheels of Hope program, a service that connects cancer patients seeking transportation to medical facilities with volunteer drivers.

Additionally, Hope Air, a national charity that provides free travel support — is strengthening the health-care referral network from key communities, such as Prince George, Fort St. John, Cranbrook, Terrace, Kamloops, Smithers, Castlegar and Fort Nelson.

The announcement contains a myriad of new or expanded supports for cancer patients who need to travel to access care, as both the Canadian Cancer Society and Hope Air have co-developed a system to connect patients with various transport and accommodation services.

The eligibility to access Travel Treatment Fund supports has increased significantly to include households with incomes up to $150,000.

Fees for Canadian Cancer Society lodge stays (Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna and Prince George) will be eliminated, as fees were previously $55 a day with two meals included.

With the new funding, Hope Air is expanding the number of flights to 2,500 and the number of accommodation nights to 14 for cancer patients travelling for treatment.

The funding will also expand the number of caregivers accompanying children and provide greater flexibility for patients travelling on commercial airlines to accommodate changes in medical appointments to ensure they don’t face cancellation fees.

Applicants for those types of programs with a household income between $80,000 and $150,000 will be considered and approved base on individual circumstances.

“By alleviating some of the challenges associated with long-distance travel and extended time away from home, we are demonstrating our commitment to putting people first and promoting health equity across B.C.,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health. “These changes will allow cancer patients and their families to focus on self care, supporting loved ones and obtaining the rest they need, rather than dealing with logistical and financial hurdles.”

In Cranbrook, local officials are pushing for the inclusion of radiation therapy into a new building planned at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital that will house expanded oncology and renal services.

Currently, Kelowna — a seven hour drive away — is the closest location that offers radiation therapy services.

Dix was non-committal when recently asked about the pending project, pointing to the development of new cancer care centres in Nanaimo, Burnaby, Surrey and Kamloops — none of which are rural — that would increase radiation therapy capacity to 10 locations in B.C.

“Those are the sites we’re building right now and we’ll be looking at proposals from places such as Cranbrook as well, but those are the ones that are on track right now, announced and being built, which is significant —four new sites on six existing sites would give us 10, which is a massive increase in our capacity for radiation therapy,” Dix said on Sept. 18, while announcing the F.W. Green Memorial Home expansion in Cranbrook.

The conceptual plans for the new building at EKRH are expected to be presented to the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District board in November.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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