Age-Friendly Moosomin plans medical transportation service

May 27, 2024, 11:43 am
Ashley Bochek

Members of Age-Friendly Moosomin Bill Thorn and Devona Putland

Age-Friendly Moosomin plans to offer out-of-town medical transportation to all ages around the community.

After hearing Gravelbourg’s success with offering this service to their community, Moosomin has hopes to do the same.

Age-Friendly members Devona Putland and Bill Thorn spoke to the World-Spectator about their plans for this easily accessible addition to our community.

Putland says the Age-Friendly group formed in March of 2020.

“We started in March of 2020, right with COVID. We did zoom meetings and did an ad through the paper for people to register. We had about 15 people or so come on board and a number of those people are still the ones sitting around the table at the meetings now.”

She says the group helps the community with accessibility needs for all ages.

“I belong to the Saskatchewan Senior Mechanism and they had Age-Friendly under their umbrella. In Saskatchewan we don’t have a designated ministry office. There is a ministry for seniors, but they don’t actually have a whole lot of staff or budget. It is a portfolio without any power. So, Saskatchewan Senior Mechanism was given Age-Friendly in it’s umbrella because the ministry didn’t have the capacity to take it.

“Age-Friendly is international and to be an Age-Friendly community there are certain things you have to do. We did some surveys to see what the community thought we needed to be more age-friendly.

“Improvements that are age-friendly are good for everyone. We know what is good for a senior for example, to cut down new curbs on the sidewalk lets a senior get up with their scooter, but it also lets a mom get up with her stroller, or the toddler on their tricycle, or people with a disability or a mobility challenge. Everything that we do enhances the community for everyone. Like having wide enough aisles in a store for somebody with a mobility challenge, and you don’t know it until you are in that situation of what isn’t accessible. Ann Norgan was on Town Council many years ago and she said they had done some age-friendly work way back and had given out little crests to businesses that were age-friendly, but that was a long time ago and it kind of got shelved. Not that we are telling anybody what they have to do to become accessible or anything like that, but it is to bring that lens of what is best for an older senior population.”

Listening to community needs
The group listens to the community members’ needs and responds with projects to meet those needs.

“We focus on our environment. For example, the benches that we did. People needed rest areas. People also felt there wasn’t communication of events and so with that we try to get more advertising going, but I also did the Techtime for seniors which our group applied for a grant through the New Horizons for Seniors program and we ended up getting eight iPads. I set a soft goal that if 20 people would come through this program, that would be wonderful. Well, we saw that in the rearview mirror. There is probably more like 50 different people who have come through the different programs. Felicité helped us for the last half a year. In the fall we are going to go once a month to troubleshoot because every time there is an upgrade on an iPhone or tablet things change a little bit and people need a little help. It is really neat to see people come out and have their contact information as well as health information in their phones in case of an emergency. We had a couple who had changed from using lifeline to having an Apple watch because the fall detection on your lifeline only works inside your house, but Apple watches work everywhere you go. There are lots of benefits to just getting people to know what is available.”

Idea from Gravelbourg
Putland heard the idea for the medical transportation service while listening to an interview on the radio by Gravelbourg’s medical transportation service.

“I got interviewed by CBC Blue Skies last year in June and I listened to the next interview which was Gravelbourg. We had tossed around the idea of a transportation plan, but everything we had come up with seemed to be so costly.

“When Gravelbourg explained their plan on the interview it just sounded like something that made sense for almost any community because they don’t run a business, they run it as a service. It has volunteer drivers. They only have one hired employee which is their dispatcher and bookkeeper, but they had to work through incorporation and charitable status and they’re not an age-friendly group. It is a little different system than what we have,” says Putland.

The group has been looking at grants to support their idea.

“We found a couple of grants but we thought incorportation and a charitable number might be hard to get,” explained Putland. “Then, we heard that the seniors club had both of those and we thought this sounds like a partnership. So, we put it out to them and they went to their membership and their membership was in agreement that this would be a good thing to partner with. Not that we want the financial part of their club, we just need those two statuses to make our project work.”

They are planning to suggest their riders make a charitable donation for their ride.

Service will generate operating funds
“We’re incorporated as a not-for-profit, but it’s important we generate enough funds to carry the service,” Thorn states. “It is not a free service. We don’t anticipate this being free. We’re there to help anybody who may need a ride that doesn’t have one. We are there to provide that, but we are not there to provide it for free. We expect to be reimbursed.”

Putland adds, “Gravelbourg gives their people a letter on the ride that says your ride to Moose Jaw today is valued at this, your suggested donation to our group is this. Then we have the incorporated status and the charitable status, so what would happen is you could get a receipt either for a medical transportation or a charitable donation.

“For people with a mobility issue, our drivers are volunteers they are not ambulance workers, people are expected to be able to get themselves to the building from the vehicle. Some may need to bring a companion along so their ride would then be half price to the person with the medical. They call it a companion rider and they charge half the price for them and then it ensures the safety of the person going to the appointment, but that way the driver isn’t also being asked to do heavy lifts or things they are not prepared for.”

Thorn says there will be no added stops for the drivers after appointments. “On the business side of it, there is no shopping involved. We are calling on the community businesses to support our business. We are not allowing anybody to stop to shop.”

Putland adds, “They can stop for food and drink, but we are not going to supply any shopping service because we want to honour the Moosomin business community.

“Greg Gillespie, the former Economic Development Officer, brought into the forefront the benefit of senior services in the community. We all have money to spend, and seniors who have to leave our community because they want to live near a specialist in Regina means our community loses that. The community is also benefiting with seniors doing a ton of volunteerism and that is something the community loses if they move away. Greg was very good at bringing that to the forefront when we did our first promotion of Age-Friendly. If our business community is behind it, if we are going to expect them to back us then we need to back them.”

Plan based on Gravelbourg service
Age-Friendly Moosomin is planning their transportation service based on Gravelbourg’s success with it.

“Gravelbourg had a University of Saskatchewan researcher come out and do a 100-page document. We have stats and checklists—information beyond anything that is imaginable. We have everything from financials to vehicle checklists. They decided they needed rear heated seats for example because if somebody has just finished a chemo treatment you need them to be cozy and comfortable on the trip home. They have done so much work that is really going to make our job so much easier.”

Putland and Thorn are looking at a federal grant at the moment to help cover the cost of the vehicle.

“One of the grants we are looking at is the rural transportation grant and it is a federal grant. They offer two different intakes and one is for planning so we could get a huge amount of money for setting up a plan alone, but we don’t need to do that. Gravelbourg didn’t need to do that. They were already up and running when they applied for their grant, but that grant will hopefully help us fund a vehicle. Then, to get a bit of an operating grant going.

“Since the deletion of STC (Saskatchewan Transportation Company) and Greyhound, almost all at the same time our communities are very isolated from any kind of transit systems. Unless you have family close, a lot of people are finding it difficult to find a ride to a procedure. Some still drive, but if you are having a procedure and then driving home the same day, which is quite common now, you are supposed to have transportation. Bill is one of the lucky guys he has all three of his kids who live in the community. It is more global now. People move away from their hometowns and they aren’t raising their kids back where the grandparents are. If your parents call and say, ‘I have an appointment on Thursday next week can you drive me?’ you are either going to take a holiday or day without pay or an earned day off in order to accommodate that if there is no other solution. It creates pressure for people.”

Thorn says they are open to provide a volunteer a driver for anyone who would like to take their own vehicle. “There may be occasions when a person has their own vehicle and needs a driver. That is an option we are going to make available too. Just to have a driver to drive others if they want or our vehicle isn’t available.”

Putland adds they are going to start off small, but anticipate the service being busy. “Our population intake area is almost three times larger than Gravelbourg and we are starting off a similar size to them. Chances are it could get busy in a hurry. It will be on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Service for all ages
The medical transportation service will be available for all ages.

“You can’t be a minor without adult supervision, but you can be 18 years of age if you need to go to the city. Al Sutherland from Gravelbourg who presented at the January Chamber meeting made a really good point when he said ‘you never would deny somebody because they’re at all feeling anxious about the medical information given to them or anything they might not be at their best to drive that day’. It is a really important service.”

Thorn adds, “We have to be somewhat cautious because we aren’t just taking anybody who has the skills to do it themselves and are taking advantage of our service.”

The group already has volunteer drivers willing to transport locals.

“Over a dozen people have already said they would be a volunteer driver and that was one of our bigger concerns in a smaller area of volunteers,” Putland says. “You can burn people out, you can’t just use those same people repeatedly. We were thinking for example, miners who are on shift work might be on a four day off and might want to donate a day, but they wouldn’t want to be a regular because their shift work wouldn’t permit it.

“You just need a class 5 license with a clean drivers abstract. It is one of those that makes sure you haven’t had any dangerous driving in your past. It is easy to obtain. We will also ask volunteers to get a criminal record check because it is very common practice in almost all organizations and it just adds that extra level of security and transparency.”

Age-Friendly will be meeting with the RM of Martin and Moosomin regarding grants for their service.

“Our near future, we are meeting with the RM of Martin and I imagine the RM of Moosomin will be shortly after. We found out there is a rural grant that we can get and the more RMs that can join together the better your power is. We already have the RM of Martin and Moosomin sharing a building and we have presented to them and they endorsed Age-Friendly with a resolution in their books that they are in support of what we do. We also have other RM’s, Silverwood is close by, we have Maryfield, and Rocanville. So we have lots of different options if we need more people that could join because this transportation isn’t just for Moosomin people.”

They think the service will attract people from surrounding communities and they welcome everybody who can be picked up in Moosomin.

“If someone can get to Moosomin we can take anyone the rest of the way,” Putland says. “At this time there are no plans for pickups anywhere but here, but as it grows we can always revamp planning.”

Federal grant
Putland says they are planning to apply for a federal grant as well. “The intakes for the federal grant are October and February 2025. The federal grant would buy 80% of the vehicle. That is what Gravelbourg got and I think our situation will easily be that. I can’t imagine them seeing us as having any less of a need. The advantage Gravelbourg had was they already had their first vehicle and traded it in and got a new one.

“I phoned Ottawa about the vehicle and it is either electric or hybrid. I told them electric isn’t feasible. We have 225 km with four people in a vehicle they draw a lot of extra power and in the winter a tremendous amount. We would have to sit at a charging station for the entire time we’re in Regina in order to make the trip home and he said ‘oh no, you folks would only have to get a hybrid, there is no way we would expect it to be feasible with anything else.’

“They found out a bus wasn’t comfortable in Gravelbourg because the seats are quite rigid and not cozy. Al also said when they had the bus they only had a few people in it and it seemed hollow and cool. When they decided to go with a smaller vehicle it was because they never had more than four people counting the driver.”

“For us, I could see us going bigger, but our first goal with the vehicle would be if anyone needed a walker or a wheelchair that it could fit in the back end. It also has to be comfortable seating. We are not looking at anything that is too compact. I was asking Tyler about this, and they have one of the bigger ones that is a hybrid, that is a Ford model. I know different ones, but again if it is something that we are asking the local businesses I think shopping locally would be our preference for maintenance and everything.”

Putland says the federal grant will be submitted in February of 2025.

“We’re thinking that the grant would probably go in February, it probably takes them until about April to let us know what it is going on, but I know where there are a lot of car salesmen in this town and once we have got funding, getting a vehicle and operating budget will all fall into place really quickly.”

Thorn says the transportation service will depend on times of appointments, “It is a little difficult because appointments are scheduled at different times.

Putland adds, “Gravelbourg has also said to people to see if they can make their appointment between 10 am and 2 pm and they have had really good luck.

“One thing that Al told us was he had been driving one time and he walked into the building to tell the person he was here to pick them up and the receptionist said to him ‘oh you’re the Gravelbourg guy. I can make their appointment the same day as another person’s.’ He said it is catching on and becoming more efficient.”

Putland explains Gravelbourg heard of the program on the radio, “They got their plan from Northern BC. Northern BC is pretty isolated and they had already had this program in place and someone there had been interviewed on some radio show and someone in Gravelbourg heard it.

“It is really important to keep the communication open because that is how we learn from one another. Honestly, if I hadn’t heard the radio that day I don’t know if we would still know about this program.”

Thorn says Rosetown has also tried something similar, “We were in touch with Rosetown too. They have volunteer drivers. They don’t have a vehicle though.”

Putland adds, “What they do at the hospital desk there, I understand that it is the Lions club along with Age-Friendly will say I need ride on a day and they just make one phone call to the group to see if anyone is available that day to drive. I think they have a limited number of people who use it. It wouldn’t be as busy as Gravelbourg.”

The group hopes the service will last for many years in Moosomin.

“My goal would be someday to see this run as a business. That somebody could run this as a business,” Putland says.