There are not many words to express my gratitude! Thank you for caring and going above and beyond—literally!!!! I am forever grateful to Hope Air.

These are the types of comments Hope Air receives from people around Canada, including in the Basin—people who, with Hope Air’s support, have been able to receive vital medical care.

“Hope Air is Canada’s only national charity that provides free flights and accommodation – for patients of all ages and medical needs – so they can travel to medical care,” says Alanna Scott, vice president of development. “We focus on patients who are living on a low income who would have a challenge coming up with the funds to travel to the medical care that they need.”

The free flights and accommodation are possible thanks to partnerships with airlines, the Radisson Hotel Group and many donations and grants from individuals, corporations and foundations. The Trust has been one of these partners since 2014.

One of the people in the Basin who has benefited is a woman named Kathryn. Living in Salmo at the time, Kathryn was suffering from increasing memory loss and confusion and needed to travel to Vancouver for a diagnosis, which turned out to be vascular dementia.

“Hope Air offered support by paying for my daughter to accompany me and for arranging for accommodations,” she says. “I cannot tell you the ease and comfort I felt being supported. This was huge in my struggle for health and wellness.”

In small and rural communities, essential services may not be available. Therefore, many patients must travel long distances to obtain a diagnosis, get medical treatment or attend follow-up appointments.

“Even if you have great health care locally,” Scott says, “if you need to access a specialist, or specialized medicine, or a specialized machine, you’ll often have to travel to major cities.”

Without a free flight, a patient may be faced with an unwelcome choice: travel far by road, possibly in bad weather; incur debt to pay for a flight themselves; or postpone or cancel the appointment altogether, risking their health.

Another Basin patient, from Creston, needed care to treat eye cancer. “Thank you for the seamless travel by air for medical appointments in Vancouver,” she says. “The fact that there was assistance with accommodations allowed me to relax as I anticipated my medical appointments.”

Since 1986, Hope Air has provided over 155,000 free flights throughout Canada. In 2020, 397 of these were for people in the Basin, along with 91 nights of accommodation. The flights generally head to Vancouver, Kelowna or Calgary, and over the years have been required for issues like cancer, musculoskeletal disorders, injuries, cardiovascular disease and high-risk pregnancy.

Because of the pandemic, the 2020 numbers are lower than average, but Hope Air is still fully operational and helping patients reach care. “There’s more virtual medicine, and some people are also a little reluctant to travel if they don’t have to,” says Scott. But Hope Air’s services are still crucial for many – for example, people with cancer – “because they do need to get to medical care that cannot be done virtually and cannot be delayed until after the pandemic.”

Some air routes that have been cancelled because of the pandemic have proven a challenge. However, a number of people, especially those with compromised immune systems, have preferred to drive on their own anyways. But, Scott says, “We are still providing accommodation regardless of whether they travel by air or not.”

And when restrictions lift and life restarts, Scott doesn’t think that Hope Air’s services will simply bounce back to their usual numbers – she thinks they’ll increase. “Our mission is more critical than ever because the pandemic has affected so many families’ abilities to work and many, many Canadian’s incomes. This means that some people are going to be even less likely to be able to afford big costs for travel for medical care.”

Therefore, don’t hesitate to contact Hope Air if you’re in need. “The Hope Air team was wonderful in the midst of a stressful time,” the Creston woman told Hope Air. “I will be recommending you to others, especially if they have to consider driving over five mountain passes in winter.”

To learn more and apply for a free flight and accommodation, visit hopeair.ca or call 1.877.346.HOPE (4673).

Columbia Basin Trust