New ambulance service aims to cut costs for medical transportation

·2 min read

The head of a new ambulance service based in the West Kootenay is hoping to cut the cost of medical transport in the region.

“We believe it doesn’t matter where you live – everyone should have access to good medical care,” says Tabatha Webber, the chief operating officer for Interior Medical Transport. “We all live in the Kootenays. We know what it’s like when you have to go to a doctor’s appointment in Kelowna or Vancouver, especially in the winter months when you’re going over mountain passes. This is a way we can help and facilitate that.”

Webber came to a meeting of the West Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital District board last month to introduce the company to regional officials.

Started just this March, at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, Webber says the service could have picked a better time to start a business. But it’s been going well: it has ambulances in Trail and Creston and ten staff, mostly made up of former police, emergency responder and military personnel. They cover the entire West Kootenay, right to Nakusp. They’re looking at expanding to Grand Forks and Cranbrook soon.

She says the service is for people who need transportation to go to doctor’s appointments, to and from the hospital, or between communities, medical facilities and care homes.

“Accessing medical appointments or treatments can be very costly and patients should not have to choose between their health and necessities like food or rent,” she says. “Your support means patients and their families can access appropriate medical care. They won’t have to delay or cancel appointments or worry about how they will be able to afford to get there.”

She says the company can meet the transportation needs of lower-level medical cases, saving Interior Health and insurers tens of thousands of dollars annually. A typical ambulance trip from Grand Forks to Trail hospital might cost IH well over $1,000, she says. Her company would charge around $300, depending on circumstances.

She showed the board a table predicting that between transfers and bed-cost savings, IH could save nearly $1.5 million in costs annually using their service.

But Webber didn’t come to the meeting looking for business from IH: her request was for an endorsement from the board in order to apply for government and private grants to cut the cost to patients even further. Similar organizations run in other provinces and regions of BC, she says, so they feel external support could be available.

“We’re really not re-inventing the wheel,” says Webber, citing the STARS provincial ambulance service in Alberta as an example. “We’re really just giving the Kootenays a service that’s been lacking a long time.”

While several directors lauded IMS for coming to the Kootenays, the board made no motion to give the company its sought-after endorsement.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice