Nova Scotia

VON transit partnership gets patients where they need to go — and helps keep them home

A partnership between VON Antigonish and the local community transit group helps people get to medical appointments they might not otherwise be able to attend, while helping them stay home for longer than might otherwise be possible.

'They don’t want to move from their houses — they want to stay home,' says transit official

Sharon Boudreau is assistant manager of Antigonish Community Transit. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Barb Aldrich is a 20-minute bicycle ride from four beaches near her home in Antigonish County. But last year, those beaches might as well have been on the moon.

"Last year I couldn't go at all, and I usually go from May through to June," she said last week, sitting by the fire in her South Harbour home.

Aldrich has been without a car for several years, so her bike is her primary mode of transportation. A slip on the ice a year ago, however, severely injured her shoulder and meant she was mainly relegated to her home. While surgery was an option, it was in Sydney, and with no way to get there and being on a fixed income, Aldrich had basically accepted it wasn't going to happen.

"I would have had to just go around with an arm that didn't work because I couldn't afford to go up there on my own," she said.

"That's an expensive trip to Sydney and I don't have any family around here."

Barch Aldrich sits with her dog, Charlie Brown, in their home in South Harbour, Antigonish County. Aldrich used a transit service in partnership with VON to help get to medical appointments in Sydney. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Cases such as Aldrich's started to become a trend observed by staff with the local Victorian Order of Nurses.

Dayna Overmars, the community support coordinator for VON Antigonish, said staff started noticing patients, particularly seniors and people with mobility issues, having difficulty getting out during winter months. Added to that was a number of patients with limited or no access to a vehicle and in a financial situation where taxis were just too expensive.

That meant people started either having to postpone medical appointments or not attend them at all.

"What we were finding was we were getting a lot of requests for assisted transportation at far distances," said Overmars. "[People] were making a choice, ultimately, to not attend medical appointments because of that inability to get there."

Dayna Overmars is the community support coordinator for VON Antigonish. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Inspired by community partnerships in the Ottawa area where Overmars used to work, she and the VON received a grant from the Municipality of the County of Antigonish for $5,000 and struck a partnership with Antigonish Community Transit, the local agency that operates regular bus and charter services in the area.

With the grant, Overmars worked out an arrangement where VON bought $5,000 worth of credits from the transit service. People who need assistance getting to medical appointments can apply for the service and the credits cover part of the cost of the trip. Overmars said most patients pay between 25 and 50 per cent of the cost of a trip. VON, meanwhile, handles the administrative costs for the program via its own fundraising.

In the first year, the program helped 60 people get to medical appointments they'd otherwise not have perhaps attended, in places as far away as Halifax and Sydney. Aldrich was one of those people. She learned of the program from the folks who operate the transit system, which she uses to go to town for groceries and socializing. She applied, was approved and used the service three times to get to Sydney, each time the driver waiting to bring her back as arranged.

A community lifeline

Sharon Boudreau, assistant manager of Antigonish Community Transit, said the service, which includes a bus, van, wheelchair accessible vehicle and small car, is a lifeline for a lot of people.

"We have a few clients that go every three months to Halifax," she said. Some of those people could not reliably make those appointments prior to this partnership, said Boudreau. Even locally, there are people they take from the Guysborough area to Antigonish to receive dialysis.

"Without that, they would have to move to Antigonish. They don't want to move from their houses — they want to stay home. That's where they want to be."

Aldrich can relate. With her shoulder well on its way to recovery and the weather starting to get warmer, her lime-green bicycle is ready to go for this year's beach season.

Preserving people's independence

While VON is still waiting to hear about its grant application for this fiscal year, Overmars said the service has shown itself to be sustainable, as well as helping get people to appointments when they need to be there, rather than having to wait for a time when it might be more doable for them in the future but when they could be sicker and require more intensive — and expensive — interventions.

Making those connections also allows people to stay home longer, thus retaining their sense of community, said Overmars.

"People here are fiercely independent. We have plenty of people who are in their 80s and 90s and they're still stacking their own firewood. So when you experience that quick loss of that ability, it becomes a real challenge to try and make those connections that you might not be aware of."

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at