Ferries working to clarify travel procedures for medical patients

BC Ferries says it’s working to clarify the rules and procedures around two programs that help people who have to travel off Coast for medical services.

The most commonly used program is the Ministry of Health’s Travel Assistance Program (TAP), which covers travel costs. BC Ferries also offers medical assured loading for those who, because of their condition, cannot wait for long periods at the terminal.

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Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) chair Diana Mumford introduced the agenda item at the committee’s Nov. 5 meeting by remarking that “it doesn’t appear to go away because what we get told by BC Ferries and what happens in reality for community residents are two different things.”

“We’re not meeting the needs of our community and our main hospital is not here… If you have any serious issues you will be going into the city,” Mumford said.

The BC Ferries delegation at the meeting included manger of customer relations Rhonda Daye, whose responsibilities include signing the medical assured loading letters, and Cheryl Forsyth, a customer relations advisor who manages the program.

Daye said BC Ferries has been working to clarify the language on medical assured loading on their website to better explain the intent of the program and who is eligible, as well as working with hospitals and clinics on the Lower Mainland, especially Loins Gate Hospital in North Vancouver and BC Children’s Hospital. 

Daye said she and Forsyth also spent some time this week visiting local medical clinics.

She said staff at the clinics said they are getting a lot of pressure from patients for a medical assured loading letter as well as a TAP form.

Daye said that pressure could be a result of patients who aren’t clear that medical assured loading is meant for people returning to the Coast after something like a surgery and not for getting to their appointment on the Lower Mainland.

The health ministry requires TAP forms to be issued by the doctor who refers a patient to a specialist, while the medical assured loading letter should be requested from BC Ferries by the doctor, hospital or clinic that is discharging a patient.

Daye also said there is concern about the growing potential for abuse of both programs.

Lori Pratt, Sunshine Coast Regional District chair and the regional district’s representative on the FAC, said the issue has also been coming up in meetings between local governments and Vancouver Coastal Health.

“We’re making sure that they’re aware of what the policy is and encouraging them to be more collaborative with BC Ferries as well, because there is a gap in what the health professionals do understand,” she said.

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