Expanded travel programs benefit patients needing cancer care
Sept. 27, 2023
VANCOUVER – Patients around B.C., especially those living in rural and remote areas, will benefit from improved access to life-saving cancer care as the Province provides $20 million to expand medical travel support.
“When people who are diagnosed with cancer must travel to receive treatment, they deserve support every step of the way,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “That’s why government is partnering with the Canadian Cancer Society and Hope Air to expand their existing programs in B.C. that aim to support all facets of cancer patient travel. By providing grant funding to these two incredible charitable organizations, we are helping patients focus on receiving their cancer treatment at one of the six BC Cancer Centres or 41 community oncology network sites so they can get well as soon as possible.”
The Canadian Cancer Society and Hope Air have each received $10 million to expand their travel programs and support cancer patients. Both organizations will have an Oct. 3, 2023, launch date.
The Canadian Cancer Society will expand its three programs: the Travel Treatment Fund (TTF), which provides grants to patients for travel expenses; the Wheels of Hope program, which matches patients with volunteer drivers; and their four lodges, which offer accommodation and meals for patients and their caregivers near cancer centres in Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna and Prince George.
Applications under the TTF will be accepted retroactively to April 1, 2023. The organization is also adding new supports for patients with blood cancers who require bone marrow transplants in Vancouver.
“A cancer diagnosis places a significant financial and emotional strain on people with cancer and their families that is heightened for those needing to travel far distances to their treatment,” said Dr. Sandra Krueckl, executive vice president of mission, information and support services, Canadian Cancer Society. “Thanks to this generous funding from the B.C. Government, the Canadian Cancer Society is expanding access to our travel and accommodation support programs so more people in B.C., particularly in rural and remote communities, can access their life-saving cancer treatment.”
Hope Air will expand its services to increase support for patients and caregivers through increased ground transportation, overnight accommodations and meal vouchers for patients. They will also provide 2,500 flights for patients in B.C. travelling to receive cancer treatment by 2026.
“This medical travel funding grant supporting patients with cancer will be transformational for those living in rural and remote communities throughout British Columbia,” said Mark Rubinstein, chief hope officer, Hope Air. “Dealing with cancer is hard – travelling to care should not be. Hope Air programs will reduce the significant expenses associated with long-distance travel for those living far from hospitals and clinics and will help deliver much better health outcomes for cancer patients in need.”
The two organizations have co-developed a system to ensure people accessing their services receive the appropriate services and support, regardless of which organization they connect with. For instance, if a person requires a flight, they will automatically be connected to Hope Air, and if a person requires ground transportation and/or accommodation only, they will be connected directly to the Canadian Cancer Society. Patients with a household income of as much as $150,000 are eligible.
“By alleviating some of the challenges associated with long-distance travel and extended time away from home, we are demonstrating our commitment to putting people first and promoting health equity across B.C.,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health. “These changes will allow cancer patients and their families to focus on self care, supporting loved ones and obtaining the rest they need, rather than dealing with logistical and financial hurdles.”
On Feb. 24, 2023, the Province launched its 10-Year Cancer Action Plan with an initial investment of $440 million, including $20 million to support people living in rural and remote communities who need to travel for cancer care. Government will continue expanding cancer care through the plan to better prevent, detect and treat cancers today, and to meet growing future demand. Through investments in research, technology and innovation, the Province is strengthening cancer care in B.C. and delivering more innovative, evidence-based care for people when and where they need it.
To increase capacity and keep up with demand into the future, the Province is adding more cancer centres throughout B.C., upgrading existing hospital space through renovation and expansion, including the addition of net new diagnostic imaging equipment and hiring new physicians and clinical support staff through B.C.’s Health Human Resources Strategy.
- The Canadian Cancer Society is Canada’s largest national cancer charity and the largest national charitable funder of cancer research in Canada.
- The society offers trusted cancer information and practical and emotional support programs nationwide, and advocates for healthy public policies to make healthy living easier for all.
- Hope Air is a national charity that provides flights, accommodations, airport and ground transportation, and meal vouchers via private-sector partnerships for families and individuals who must travel for medical care.
- Hope Air partners with multiple airlines and airports around the province.
To learn more about B.C.’s cancer plan, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2023HLTH0012-000229
Three backgrounders follow.
Ministry of Health
250 952-1887 (media line)
What people are saying about medical travel support
Heather Findlay, chief operating officer, BC Cancer –
“Expanding support for travel, accommodation and related costs will help to improve access to life-saving cancer care for patients and families facing cancer regardless of where they live in our province. It also supports the work we are doing to expand and improve our provincial cancer care system through B.C.’s 10-Year Cancer Action Plan and bring care closer to home through the planning of four new cancer centres in Burnaby, Surrey, Nanaimo and Kamloops.”
Dr. Kim Chi, chief medical officer, BC Cancer –
“Our care teams are committed to supporting patients at every stage of their cancer journeys, whether they live close to one of our six regional centres or in a remote, hard-to-reach part of our province. We’re grateful to have partners like Hope Air and Canadian Cancer Society that provide critical support for patients who struggle with the cost and stress of travelling for cancer care.”
Dr. David Byres, president and CEO, Provincial Health Services Authority –
“We know that people in remote and rural regions and Indigenous communities experience higher incidences of cancer and can face barriers – both financial and otherwise – that make it hard to travel for treatment. Organizations like Hope Air and Canadian Cancer Society help patients and their families overcome those barriers and allow us to deliver the same high-quality, person-centred and culturally safe cancer care to people from throughout B.C.”
John Geertsma, patient validator –
“Cancer in itself is a huge negative stressor in your life, but if you add all the treatments and services one has to access, it can be overwhelming! What we’ve experienced with Hope Air and the Canadian Cancer Society lodges, is basically a helping hand. They even took some of the work away by doing the booking and research that was needed at the time. Their acceptance of changes in plans and accommodating emergencies is a real gift for those of us who struggle with a life-altering disease. We are grateful.”
Monica Geertsma, caregiver validator –
“The last year has been what we call a wild storm… and at times we really thought we were sinking. Too many waves and wind beating down and overtaking us. Hope Air and the Canadian Cancer Society lodges were there when we really needed extra fortitude just to be able to handle the next step in this journey. It gave us encouragement, knowing that there are other folks out there, wanting to join us in the fight. Cancer is downright ugly, but we have witnessed shards of beauty through Hope Air and the Canadian Cancer Society. Having a supportive place to stay, not worrying about meals and having the means to access services outside our northern town are essential in the healing process we are striving for. Thank you for the support you give us!”
Savan Fry, patient validator –
“When cancer strikes, it affects all who are close, destroying love and kindness that once existed, but not telling those who aim to fix it. A community consisting of those who aid allows those affected by cancer to be less afraid. When Hope Air and the Canadian Cancer Society are there, the stress of going here to there is nothing, as long as we know they are there.”
Ministry of Health
250 952-1887 (media line)
More about Hope Air’s $10-million grant
Through a $10-million grant, Hope Air will:
- support 2,500 flights in B.C. for patients travelling to receive cancer care by 2026, up from the 1,000 expected in 2023;
- increase the number of accommodation nights for patients and caregivers from 1,500 in 2023 to 3,300 by 2026;
- increase the number of nights of accommodation provided to 14, an increase from the current five nights of stay;
- increase the in-hotel meal voucher program to a daily amount of $50, an increase from the current $40 per day. Previously, it was two nights at the lower value;
- increase the number of patients served by increasing the number of travel arrangements made each year to 7,500 by 2026, an increase from the 2,000 travel arrangements projected in 2023. Of those travel arrangements, approximately 14% will be for children and their parents or guardians;
- expand the number of caregivers accompanying patients;
- provide greater flexibility for patients travelling on commercial airlines, ensuring changes to medical appointments and related circumstances can be accommodated with no cancellation or rescheduling fees paid by the patient;
- improve the ground-transportation program, through Uber or alternative taxi service, offering a voucher for $120, an increase from the $80 currently being offered. (This voucher can be used for multiple trips for patients between airport and hospital, hospital to accommodation, and hospital back to airport. Where Uber does not exist, arrangements with local taxi companies exist, such as in Prince George);
- strengthen the health-care referral network from key communities, such as Prince George, Fort St. John, Cranbrook, Terrace, Kamloops, Smithers, Castlegar and Fort Nelson, ensuring that Hope Air continues to be an integrated solution to the health-care needs of patients required to travel.
- For Hope Air eligibility, applicants with a confirmed medical appointment and in financial need qualify for support. As a general guideline, applicants with a gross household income for the prior year at or below $80,000 are generally approved.
- Applicants with prior-year gross household income between $80,000-$150,000 can be approved based upon individual circumstances, such as size of household and other factors drawing on their income. Applicants are able to provide information regarding their circumstances within the application form.
- Applicants disclosing prior-year gross household income more than $150,000, with no further explanations as to need; would be individually reviewed based on receipt of additional information outlining factors affecting their ability to travel. Based upon such information, a decision would be made.
Ministry of Health
250 952-1887 (media line)
More about the Canadian Cancer Society’s $10-million grant
The Canadian Cancer Society will use the funding for:
The Travel Treatment Fund
- The Canadian Cancer Society currently serves 1,500 patients per year.
- With the new funding, it expects to be able to serve significantly more patients each year.
- By significantly expanding eligibility, barriers will be reduced for individual patients to access the fund.
- Currently, applicants must have a household income under $30,000 to receive reimbursement from the Canadian Cancer Society Travel Treatment Fund.
- The grant funding will be used to expand eligibility to include those with household incomes up to $150,000.
- Lodge fees will be eliminated for patients.
- A lodge stay includes two meals per day for patients. (Fees were previously $55 per day.)
- All lodges will now be open seven days a week in Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna and Prince George.
The Wheels of Hope Program
- Ensure more people get to life-saving treatment by expanding the Wheels of Hope volunteer driving program into the Kootenay region and areas of Vancouver Island that are currently underserviced.
- This service is available at no cost.
- Expansion to other areas will be forthcoming.
- Recruitment of new drivers in existing and new program areas.
- Building and refining shuttle services through major travel thoroughfares and for lodge clientele.
Ministry of Health
250 952-1887 (media line)