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Some Sask seniors ‘stuck’ as result of STC closure

Seniors travelling to Saskatoon for medical reasons will have to “beg and borrow” for rides from their families after the Saskatchewan Transportation Company closes and the loss may result in more people missing important appointments, according to senior advocates and health care professionals.

“It’s going to impact people financially, emotionally and medically,” said Prince Albert Seniors Advocacy Centre project leader Allison Marcotte.

On May 31, the Government of Saskatchewan will close the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, as costs associated with subsidizing the service are becoming “unsustainable” and will cost the province an estimated $85 million over the next five years.

It’s a number that minister responsible for the STC Joe Hargrave says could climb to $100 million if ridership continues to decline. According to the government, ridership has been “steadily declining” with only two of the STC’s 27 routes delivering a profit.

The decision has been the focus of demonstrations province-wide, but the Saskatchewan government has said eliminating the service is necessary to address an almost $1.3 billion budget deficit.

Hargrave said money from STC will be redirected to other public services.

“We’re thinking that $85 to $100 million could be spent in health, in social services, in education,” he said. “I mean, that’s a substantial number.”

Hargrave said no formal impact study was conducted around the STC closure, but said the possibility has been examined since the early 90s by both of Saskatchewan’s major parties.

“I’ve run businesses for many, many years and I could see the impact without paying a consultant to look at,” he said.

Marcotte, however, said some who rely on the service are already vulnerable.

“The seniors are already victimized and having a hard time and struggling with food, let alone with medicine and medical appointments,” she said. “Now, it’s just going to make it even worse.”

The STC became a service some had come to rely on for travel for medical reasons. For example, the Canadian Cancer Society, which utilizes the STC for patient transportation, recorded 282 trips into Saskatoon and Regina on the STC in 2016 alone.

John Fryters relied on the service to travel to Saskatoon from Prince Albert for medical reasons six to 10 times a year.

The founder of the Seniors Advocacy Centre has already had to push back appointments in June and is now trying to figure out how to get to future appointments, joking his wife is in the market for “roller skates” as an alternative.

“We’re stuck in Prince Albert,” said Fryters, calling the closure “totally unacceptable.”

The issue was raised as a concern during a recent senior summit, he said people will now be forced to “beg” others for a lift, with individuals having to make arrangements “well in advance.” He and his wife considered moving to Saskatoon after the STC’s closure was announced, but they realized this would be “financially impossible.”

Joe Hargrave, the minister responsible for the the Saskatchewan Transportation Company speaks at the launch of Operation Red Nose for the 2016 season. Minister Hargrave said there’s ample interest from the private sector to meed Saskatchewan’s transportation demand following the closure of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company on May 31, 2017.

Don Healy /

Regina Leader-Post

Hargrave said there is ample interest to address transportation needs in province, noting the human cost of the STC closure was also considered.

“For sure we looked at that. You’ve got to remember … that the STC served less than half of the communities of the province, so we already had an element of people who were not provided that service,” he said. “To-date, since the announcement, we’ve had 17 different groups apply to the highway traffic board from all over the province that want to provide transportation services to communities throughout the province.

“That’s a really good signal, I think, that service of some fashion will come about for most of the communities, in fact, maybe even in more communities,” he said.

Hargrave also noted some Saskatchewan residents also have access to funding through the Ministry of Health and Social Services for travel to medical appointments. The bus was rarely used by the province’s Northern Medical Transportation Program, as only 34 of the 4,946 rides provided were by bus in 2015-16.

Just being with people who know how you’re feeling, how you’re thinking. It takes a lot of of the stress off. – Charlene Bernard, Canadian Cancer Society Prince Albert and area

Some in Northern communities also have concerns about the loss of the STC.

Rhonda Oliver, manager of the La Ronge Medical Clinic, noted while they haven’t seen the effects yet, it will be a “huge detriment” for her patients. She predicts the closure will result in more missed appointments and more work for local doctors, as in some cases, if a patient misses an appointment twice they’ll have to be re-referred.

“We just have to wait and see what’s going to happen, but I know it’s not a good thing,” she said.

Charlene Bernard, with the Canadian Cancer Society serving Prince Albert and area, said some patients are hesitant to ask family members for a ride, as they don’t want to become a burden.  For them, the STC provided them a ride and a sense of  independence.

It also provides an opportunity to engage with others experiencing similar situations.

“I can’t even describe how important that is,” she said. “Just being with people who know how you’re feeling, how you’re thinking. It takes a lot of of the stress off.”

“They share laughs. They share stories … you create friendship,” she added.

Hargrave couldn’t say at this time if the government plans to conduct a formal study into how the loss of the STC has affected residents, but noted he and his staff will be keeping a close eye on the situation as it develops.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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