THUNDER BAY – It’s a simple idea: Free flights to get low-income Canadians to specialized healthcare that is not available in their home communities. It’s an idea that can help make the Canadian healthcare system truly accessible to all. And it’s an idea that Hope Air has been pursuing for over 26 years, defeating the twin barriers of distance and cost to get people to the care they need. However, not content with defeating Canadian geography, Hope Air is now breaking their own record for the most flights in a single year. The previous record, set in 2002, was 4,844: Hope Air recently surpassed that number and is well on the way to reaching 5,700+ flights in 2012.
“Canada is a big country, and medical specialists for certain conditions may exist in only one or two places across the country,” says Hope Air Executive Director Doug Keller-Hobson. “We help people who live in the communities far from medical expertise and advanced medical technologies: these families face drives or bus rides of up to 12 hours or more, each way, to reach the care they need. Hope Air, with the generosity of our airline partners and other supporters, arranges free flights to get low-income families to the care they need.”
Who are the people that Hope Air helps?
Hope Air clients are people of all ages, with all illnesses, from all across Canada. They live in cities, towns and communities far from larger urban centres where the care they need is located. Hope Air clients live at – or below – the poverty line, spending most of their income on shelter, food and clothing, with little remaining to cushion a sudden or extended health issue.
When faced with a complicated pregnancy, Cheryl of Red Lake in northwestern Ontario choose to go to Toronto to deliver her twins because she had family (relatively) close by in Peterborough. After the twins were born, the twins were transferred to Peterborough for extended care where Cheryl’s parents lived. Still, after a month, the new family faced a big challenge in getting home: it’s almost an 18 hour drive from Peterborough to Red Lake.
“Hope Air and their Volunteer Pilot Paul Clark agreed to fly us home!” says mom Cheryl. “It made everything easier: I couldn’t imagine making that drive with two newborns and flights for us were going to cost thousands of dollars. Hope Air got us there quickly and easily!”
Hope Air has done 760+ flights in Ontario in 2012 — We’ve done 74 flights so far in 2012 for people from Thunder Bay to destinations such as Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa and even Edmonton. We can do more for the people in northwestern Ontario if they knew about us! Cancer used to be the number one reason why people in Ontario needed Hope Air flights (and still is nationally), but it was recently beaten out by gastrointestinal needs. Rounding out the top five illnesses among our Hope Air clients are neurological, orthopedic and kidney/bladder disorders.
As Doug Keller-Hobson says, “To find out that you – or your child – require medical care so far from home can cause panic and despair. Some adults forego the care they need, from a lack of viable options, but parents fight very hard for their children to get the care they need, taking days – if not weeks – off work to travel and stay for treatment, with a devastating impact on the family’s financial situation.”
Hope Air has three flight programs to assist people in closing the gap between patient and physician / home and hospital:
- The Commercial Airline Donation Program relies upon the generosity of many of Canada’s airlines which donate flights.
- The Volunteer Pilot Program partners with private pilots who use their aircraft to get people to their medical appointments.
- The Flight Purchase Program uses donated funds from individuals, events, corporations and foundations to purchase flights when Hope Air exceeds the ability of its partners to donate flights.
Recently Hope Air has expanded its partnerships, growing its capacity to provide flights. For the sake of its clients, Hope Air is no longer content to be a “secret” and this unique charity is now becoming recognized as an important and intrinsic part of the healthcare continuum across Canada. New and innovative partnerships like the Rotary Club St. John’s NW Gala Dinner & Auction in Newfoundland, the Toronto Pearson Runway Run, and a funding agreement with the BC Government to get its citizens to healthcare, have allowed Hope Air to expand its flights in many areas across Canada.
In 2009, Hope Air did just 2,314 flights: this year it has already flown or booked 5,700 flights — and there are still 5 weeks left in 2012. Growing and extending such partnerships and funding arrangements will help raise its flight numbers even further.
“Hope Air does great work,” says Cheryl. “They make sure that my family’s access to healthcare is not limited by where we live or how much money we have. Moreover, at a challenging time in our lives, we knew we weren’t alone with Hope Air helping us.”
“A flight from Hope Air reduces the financial, physical and emotional stress these families are under,” says Doug Keller-Hobson. “Almost one-third of our clients tell us that without a Hope Air flight, they could not travel to the care they need. We know that a free flight now, to coordinated care and treatment, can prevent an emergency flight later, when a health crisis occurs. Our flights may help save lives, and our flights do help save our health system enormous costs.”
Hope Air was recently recognized as one of the top 45 charities in Canada by Charity Intelligence. Hope Air was praised for operating a lean, cost-effective organization that also offers great value in its services to the people it helps.
“We’re very patient-focused,” adds Doug Keller-Hobson. “Anyone can make a flight request online at www.hopeair.ca or call 1-877-346-4673. This is the first new record for flights we’ve set in 10 years, but it is not the last: we plan on doing so again and again.”