A vital transportation service connecting seniors in Brooks, Alta., with medical appointments and treatments in Medicine Hat needs to find new funding to keep operating.
The pilot project started early last year involving several municipalities in the Brooks region including: Bassano, County of Newell, Grasslands Regional FCSS and the villages of Duchess and Rosemary.
The pilot went from running one trip per week in February 2019, to three trips per week by July 2019, taking registered seniors to Medicine Hat to access essential, life-sustaining healthcare services not available in Brooks, including cancer treatments and diagnostics.
More than 160 seniors have signed up to use the service regularly and a survey conducted in March 2020 showed they're very happy with it.
The bus link is also used for people travelling for legal appointments, family visits and trips to Medicine Hat College, depending on capacity.
But the funding, from a Government of Alberta Regional Collaboration Grant, is coming to an end and the program needs to find new investment to keep operating.
"Sometimes we've had more than 10, sometimes we've had less than five but it is being utilized," said Amanda Peterson, deputy CAO for the City of Brooks.
The program received a one time donation of $10,000 this year from the Brooks and District Health Foundation, which is helping keep the service running until mid November, but it's not enough to keep it operating beyond that.
The project needs around $62,000 per year to keep running. Riders pay a $20 fee for a round-trip but the average running cost for a trip is $400.
"The service is still running until we find other sources of funding. A decision was made to refer the matter to each of the municipal councils for discussion about whether an ongoing funding allocation could be possible after the pilot's funding has run out," said Peterson.
Peterson says the councils are discussing funding options and are due to meet early in September. Until then the pilot's future is uncertain.
The service has become so vital to users it even continued to run through the pandemic.
"We had all the PPE, followed all the guidelines and we continued to run because it was considered an essential service," said Peterson.
Peterson says seniors travel to Medicine Hat for all sorts of medical reasons from kidney care and cancer treatments through to mental health appointments and tests.
"This has been a really good pilot and we're keeping our fingers crossed that it continues to service our communities," Peterson said.
Peterson says they're looking for potential funding partners and are open to all suggestions.