Angel Flight East Kootenay hopes to fly patients in the East Kootenay region to Kelowna and Vancouver, free of charge. The purely-crowdfunded service is projected to go live this summer. Photo courtesy of Raven Eye Photography

New flight service an ‘angel’ for medical patients

As interprovincial healthcare access issues continue, a pair of Elk Valley pilots has taken it upon themselves to help medical patients forced to travel great distances for treatment.

The volunteer organization, Angel Flight East Kootenay, announced their service on Wednesday, saying they hope to help patients in the East Kootenay region by flying them to Kelowna and Vancouver, free of charge. The soley-crowdfunded service is projected to go live this summer.

The Free Press previously reported that Kootenay residents were being denied access to Alberta health services despite their close proximity to the B.C.-Alberta border. In one case, a Hosmer woman was forced to live out of a travel trailer in Kelowna for two months while receiving radiation therapy for stage two breast cancer, unable to utilize family support in Calgary.

Angel Flight EK founders Todd Weselake and Brent Bidston hope to help people burdened by the long and expensive journey. Weselake is the owner of and pilot for Raven Eye Photography, while Bidston is the Area Air Deputy with the Elk Valley Civil Air Search And Rescue Association (CASARA).

“Having to travel seven-and-a-half hours each way for medical treatment puts a huge burden on their families and themselves,” said Weselake.

“Sometimes they can get to the appointments themselves but they can’t always get back afterwards, on their own especially,” he added.

Cost has been highlighted as a major issue for patients forced to travel west for treatment. The Free Press previously reported a woman spent $20,000 on hotels, gas, eating out and parking, and only received $3500 back through income tax.

In addition to this, many patients are forced to take time off work or quit their jobs for treatment.

Initially, the flight service will strictly focus on the Cranbrook to Elk Valley region, but Weselake and Bidston hope to expand in the future to service other Kootenay towns, including Invermere, Golden, Creston, Nelson, and others.

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka said he was excited to hear about this new proposed service.

He explained that little has changed in the past three months since last speaking up about this issue. In an effort to help solve it, Shyptika has reached out to multiple groups and organizations, but says he continues to get mixed messages. Some groups claim to welcome B.C. residents to Alberta hospitals, while others speak to their denial of service.

Recently, Shypitka says he has seen the need for healthcare spike. He explained that capacity issues are a real problem in hospitals. At the end of the day, he added that there’s not much a British Columbian MLA can do to help with Alberta capacity issues. However, he said he will continue to lobby the B.C. government for solutions.

“We’re going to have to address affordability, is there compensation? If we can’t provide services for people locally in this area, then how is the government stepping up to provide that?” said Shypitka.

He said hospitals are under strain, adding that this is not a new issue. B.C.’s population is growing; people are living longer.

Shypitka will be meeting with B.C.’s Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, next week in the Legislative Assembly’s Estimates debate. He said he has a slew of questions prepared, many pertaining to the interprovincial healthcare access issue.

Angel Flight EK has set up a Gofundme page, and hopes to receive donations in order to make their transport service available.

The founders expect to receive charity status in the next month, which will allow them to take public donations. They plan on hosting fundraisers in the near future to help offset costs.

Weselake said costs for round trip transportation will range from $250 to $1000 depending on distance, plane size and weather.

For more information visit http://angelflightek.ca/.



editor@thefreepress.ca

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