Essential Medical Transport for Seniors Gets Axed

For now, seniors will have to find a new way to their medical appointments

No funding for free van for seniors to get to distant doctors

“I’m genuinely sorry that we had to pull out of there. I really didn’t want to, but I have to look at the bottom line, and that’s really what it is.”

Don Buchner is Wheels for Wellness Society’s executive director, but he has to shut down operations in the Island’s western communities.

“I hate it. I committed to it myself. To have it fail is horrible. I felt like crap, but I also have to look after the rest of the society,” he told the Westerly.

Wheels for Wellness has been in Canada since 1997 and was launched for the Tofino-Ucluelet region in 2016.

They bring seniors who don’t have or can no longer drive vehicles to and from their often very far away medical appointments.

This helps vulnerable seniors get access to the care they need.

But without public funding or a charitable hero, it’s unlikely to come back to the area.

“The reason is that financially it’s just a disaster. We get maybe $400 a year in donations,” said Buchner.

Fifty-six seniors rode in West Island Wheels for Wellness vans to their appointments in 2022.

Buchner added that Port Hardy’s van runs with a full load daily, and Gold River’s van runs three days a week with a “minimum of two people on board.”

However, the remoteness of the west coast areas added to the financial burden, as most trips can’t be made in one day.

Some Wheels for Wellness routes get funding from Island Health, but the West Coast route never has.

It’s a “devastating” loss for those who use it, said Tofino Mayor Dan Law to the Westerly.

“I hope there are some options to find funding to keep it going… It’s been a great service for those that have used it,” he said.

While Buchner may be pulling out of the service, he said if someone local steps up to the plate, he’ll give them the Wheels for Wellness van.

“There’s dollars involved, lots of them, but the vehicle would be free,” he said.

He added if the West Coast non-profits or government organized, they could add routes between Tofino and Ucluelet. These were not available with the old service.

Ucluelet government hopes to get a new service up and running for locals.

We’ll see if any other organizations mobilize to make it happen.