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Sunshine Coast senior protests BC Ferries policy on medical travel

Last Updated Jul 26, 2020 at 9:53 pm PDT

West Vancouver and Horseshoe Bay are seen here from the NEWS 1130 Air Patrol in the summer of 2019. (Source: Riley Phillips/NEWS 1130)
Summary

A Sunshine Coast resident organized a protest parade to cvoice her concerns with the service provided by BC Ferries

Waiting in long lines in punishing conditions while travelling for medical appointments is Church's main concern

SECHELT (NEWS 1130) — Mar-Lynn Church strapped a wheelchair and a walker to the roof of her car and put a commode in the trunk Sunday before hitting the streets of Sechelt to draw attention to some of the problems she and others on the Sunshine Coast have with ferry service.

Church is 70, with various health issues and she didn’t want to stand on the streets holding a protest sign in the hot sun.

But she did want to take action.

“I’m a little old lady with a walker and a wheelchair, I’ll be there with a walker and a wheelchair on top of my car, and my signs,” she says.

One of the issues she wants to draw attention to is that people from the coast often need to travel to Metro Vancouver for medical treatments, and summer crowds leave them waiting in long lines or unable to board.

“We are sitting on the highway not anywhere near the ticket booth for hours on end because we can’t get home after medical appointments. That’s true for everybody traveling and I’m sorry that’s true for RVs and trailers and tourists but it is especially true for people who are having chemo treatments, specialist appointments. We do not have specialists up here. We have many seniors here that need treatment, that need life-saving help, they need testing,” she says.

As of the 2016 Canada Census, the median age on the Sunshine Coast was 54.9; significantly higher than the Provincial median of 43 years.

Good morning!! Looks like a great day for a parade/protest/and leisurely drive thru the town of Sechelt! In case you…

Posted by Mar-lynn Church on Sunday, July 26, 2020

BC Ferries does have a program called Medical Assured Loading.

“This program is designed to reduce time at the terminal for those in need of urgent care where an extended wait would cause risk to their health,” says the policy.

However, Church says a recent policy change will cost people making multiple trips time and money.

“My big thorn is the medical boarding. I take seniors to and from appointments, surgeries, procedures all the time and this is just totally unacceptable. You have to get a different letter every single time you have a treatment,” Church says.

“They not only need to write a letter but they need to get it to BC Ferries and then BC Ferries will in turn get back with us and then we will have assured boarding.”

A spokesperson for BC Ferries confirms this change came into effect in October because the previous system in which approved patients were issued letters that were good for a year was being abused.

The ferry service does say individual exceptions can be negotiated if a doctor can provide one note listing multiple appointments.

Church’s frustration is compounded by a dearth of reservations.

“There are no reservations, there haven’t been reservations for months,” she says, adding she knows people who have shown up with a printed out confirmation only to be met with a technical glitch and news that there is no record of their booking.

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She says long lineups to get on the sailings from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale have always been an issue, but have become worse amid the pandemic.

“It has been a problem for years and every year it only gets worse and then we have COVID. This is how we live, this is how we’ve been living for summer after summer for years,” she says.

“We are up on the shoulder of Upper Levels highway with no water, no bathrooms, no food, and no shade. We cannot walk a mile or two down to Horseshoe Bay to go to the bathroom. Many of my lady friends have peed by the side of the road with the door open and somebody holding a towel.”

Church would like to see more sailings each day, and an effort to make sure passengers waiting in their cars can access bathrooms, water, and some solace in the shade.