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MediCar service starting up in Squamish

Volunteer service to offer free rides to medical specialist appointments on the North Shore, in Vancouver or Whistler.

Currently, if you can't drive yourself to the city or Whistler for a specialist appointment, you have to figure it out somehow. Perhaps a friend or co-worker can drive you, or you can take a shuttle or ride-share and wait on either side of your appointment for the ride home.

This is not ideal if you feel unwell or have just had surgery. 

Or you can shell out a small fortune for a taxi to take you door-to-door. 

But starting March 1, a new option — MediCar — will be available, brought to you by the folks who operate the long-running Squamish Volunteer Drivers for Cancer Program. 

The new free service is for folks needing a ride to medical specialist appointments on the North Shore, in Vancouver or Whistler. 

It is part of the Squamish Volunteer Drivers Program and operates under the umbrella of the Sea to Sky Hospice Society

The program's Grace Halvorson said the idea for a MediCar service came from all the calls for specialist appointments that the cancer car program was fielding. 

That service is only for cancer-related appointments, so dispatchers couldn't help those needing rides for other medical appointments. 

"We do know there's a need out there. A big need, " said Halvorson.

"And it just tore up my heart. I thought, how do we do this?"

When the funding for the drivers for cancer program was pulled by the Canadian Cancer Society in 2015, the Squamish Rotary Club stepped in with the needed funds. 

Thus, Halvorson thought to propose the MediCar idea to the organization. She filled out a grant application, and long story short, Rotary came through with $20,000 in seed funding. (Of that figure, one Rotary member chipped in $5,000 of his own money.)

The program is "the gift of a lift," said Halvorson.

Squamish Rotary's Lynda Rocha said the MediCar program made a lot of sense to her and others in the club. 

Her own parents, who live with her, are 92, and she regularly transports them to medical appointments. 

It got her thinking about what folks without family to drive them must do.

"If I wasn't there, or not able, my husband works full time. How do these patients get to their appointments? What do you do?" she said. 

MediCar seemed like an excellent program for the club to support, she said, noting that a committee approved the grant application. 

"Everybody in the club was very, very supportive of this project," said Rocha. 

She added that another nice aspect of the service is that it may also give caregivers a break and helps alleviate isolation for some patients who may not get out and about as much as they would like. 

Drivers are program volunteers who must undergo a thorough screening and training process. 

They are reimbursed for their gas. 

There are currently 14 drivers between this new program and the cancer car program, with more being trained.

Anyone interested in being a driver can email Halvorson: [email protected].

The dispatch numbers to contact for the service will be released closer to the March 1 start date. 

Requests for rides have to be made 48 hours in advance. 

Halvorson commended the community for its support, including the volunteer drivers, and the "amazingly talented" committee members behind MediCar. 

"It's kind of a diverse group of people. We're all working to make it work," she said. 

While Rotary has done the heavy financial lifting of getting the program started, to sustain it long-term, MediCar needs further funding. Donations can be made via (attention: MediCar).


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