Vendor named for first phase of short-distance travel and long-distance travel for NH Connections program

Northern Health is pleased to announce that Diversified Transportation Ltd. of British Columbia is the successful vendor for the first two parts of the Northern Health Connections program. The program will provide low-cost travel options for patients who need to travel outside their home community for physician-referred medical services and other health programs.

Diversified Transportation will operate the first phase of the short-distance ground transportation service as well as the long-distance ground transportation service.

Northern Health is currently developing booking procedures and schedules for the routes. Service is expected to begin in June. Further information for passengers will be made available as the program becomes operational.

“The Province is committed to working with Northern Health and to investing in local strategies that provide rural patients with timely, affordable access to high quality health care,” said Health Minister George Abbott. “I’m pleased to see this program progressing so that when Northern residents need to travel for specialized health care, the geographic challenges won’t stand in their way.”

“This is a new and unique service we are proud to be implementing for Northerners who need to travel for medical appointments,” said Northern Health CEO Malcolm Maxwell. “Over the next few months, we will be seeking further input and advice from our patients, staff and physicians to ensure that we develop this program in the most effective way.”

Diversified Transportation has ordered new coaches and vehicles, and is hiring staff. All vehicles will be fully wheelchair accessible. The buses will also include a number of amenities for patients.

“We look forward to using our experience in transportation to benefit patients across Northern British Columbia,” said Diversified Transportation’s Jerry Peltier. “This project is a significant opportunity for our organization and we’re confident we can deliver a high-quality service to patients.”

“The service will use new highway coaches and mini-buses that are specially equipped for passenger comfort. We understand that patients who will use these services may not be in the best of health and can benefit from enhanced amenities,” said NH Connections Regional Manager Sean Hardiman. “As the service develops, we will continue to make adjustments to ensure the needs of patients are met.”

Northern Health recognizes the excellent work done by the Smithers Community Services Association to pilot their medical van transportation service. The North West Regional Hospital District financially supported the service for patients traveling between Houston and Terrace. The pilot project provided a model that is now being applied throughout the region.

Planning is underway to implement short-distance routes to additional Northern BC communities later in 2006. Of particular community note for the province’s Northeast, future phases of the project will include regular transportation services between communities in the Peace River region to Grande Prairie, AB to complement the initial long-distance route from Fort Nelson to Grande Prairie.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Northern Health Connections program

As Northern Health has worked to plan its initial phase of Northern Health Connections, there have been many questions about the program and what it will provide. Here are the specific details:

When and where will the service operate?

Diversified Transportation will provide twice-weekly round trip coach service on the following routes:

?Vancouver to/from Prince George;

?Prince George to/from Prince Rupert;

?Prince George to/from Fort St. John via Chetwynd and Dawson Creek; and

Diversified Transportation will also provide same-day round-trip mini-bus service along the following routes on a once-weekly basis:

?Valemount to/from Prince George;

?Valemount to/from Kamloops;

?Burns Lake to/from Prince George;

?Burns Lake to/from Smithers; and

?Houston to/from Terrace.

Diversified Transportation will also provide a round trip mini-bus service along the following route on a once-weekly basis:

?Fort Nelson to/from Grande Prairie, AB via Fort St. John and Dawson Creek (with the potential for further expansion)

With respect to the routes outlined above, stops will be made in each community along the way to pick up local passengers. For example, patients from Vanderhoof will be picked up in both the mini-bus service running to/from Burns Lake and Prince George, as well as the coach service running to/from Prince Rupert and Prince George.

At this time, a provider for the Terrace-Kitimat corridor has not been selected. NH is working together with local government to determine if there are other partnership options that would enable an enhanced service to be offered. Further information will be provided once it is available.

Each long distance route will operate during the daytime. Low-cost accommodation options are under development for passengers in receiving care in Vancouver and those connecting through Prince George.

The exact start-up of the services depends on when the new mini-buses and coaches are ready. Service is expected to begin in June.

Planning is underway to implement short-distance routes to additional Northern BC communities later in 2006. Of particular community note for the province’s Northeast, future phases of the project will include regular transportation services between communities in the Peace River region to Grande Prairie, AB to complement the initial long-distance route from Fort Nelson to Grande Prairie.

Why is service being provided on these specific runs?

We know that affordable travel to receive highly specialized health services is an issue for communities all across Northern BC, so we developed the long-distance routes to offer more options to patients who have to travel beyond the nearest referral community.

We also know that there are many people in small communities who need to travel for the specialized services that we offer in larger centres. The first wave of short-distance runs will offer service to communities such as Fort Nelson, the Robson Valley, and Burns Lake… where residents have to travel lengthy distances for specialized care.

We are now working to implement short distance service to additional communities across the region.

Will there be a cost to using the service?

This service is primarily intended to benefit low-income patients; a nominal fare will be charged. This charge will help provide NH with the ability to sustain services in the event of increased fuel charges and other related costs.

A final cost structure is still being determined. We’ll study the fare structure as the program unfolds to make changes based on user feedback.

Who will be able to use the service?

Anyone will be able to use the service as long as they’re traveling for a physician-referred medical service or to access a health service that’s not available in their home community (such as a physiotherapy appointment).

How will patients access the service?

Northern Health is currently developing booking procedures. Further information for prospective passengers will be made available as the program becomes operational.

Will an escort be able to come along with a patient?

Yes, provided that there’s a vacant seat available on the bus and that they meet certain eligibility criteria. These criteria are still being developed.

Escorts are defined as individuals who can provide necessary support to a patient while they are traveling on a Northern Health Connections transportation service.

Will there be medical care available on the mini-buses and coaches?

No. These services are intended for patients traveling for non-emergent care, and stable. Patients requiring ongoing medical care during travel will not be eligible to use this service; anyone who needs a more critical transport will continue to receive it through the BC Ambulance Service.

In the event of a medical emergency on-board, bus drivers will be able to contact emergency services via a satellite phone or radio.

Is this service a replacement for the Ambulance Service?

No. This service won’t provide emergency service to patients, nor will it handle inter-hospital transfers. The BC Ambulance Service will continue to provide those services.