By Laura Keil

Northern Health Connections is loosening its eligibility requirements after clamping down during COVID-19 restrictions late-March.

Once again the following travelers will be able to board:

  • Those traveling for non-urgent medical procedures, such as chiropractors and massage therapists – an appointment verification will be required
  • Discharges (by health authority hospital staff) – appointment verification not required
  • Medically-necessary companions can board
  • Staff & Physicians (including health care students), who are travelling for work

However, seniors 60+ and those with mobility challenges will not be able to ride the medical bus without a medical appointment for the time being. Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins says they hope to expand eligibility to include seniors or those with disabilities without appointments at some point in the future. Currently, only those who have verified medical appointments or their medically-necessary companion will be able to ride the bus, which travels through the Robson Valley every Tuesday (Valemount-Prince George route) and Thursday (McBride-Kamloops route). Companions for moral support will not be permitted.

The bus service reduced its passenger count at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Northern Health Connections said it will continue to limit seating and have enhanced safety measures. Some changes will be permanent, including:

  • All travel must be booked 48 hours in advance.
  • No walk-on passengers (no exceptions).
  • Anyone with COVID-19-like symptoms will not be allowed to travel.
  • In order to ensure physical distancing, a maximum of 12 passengers will be allowed on a coach and a maximum of five passengers will be allowed on a minibus.

Valemount senior Helen Harmon has used the bus a number of times this past year to go to Prince George, where she visits her daughter or goes to a medical appointment. She said she often pairs it with BC Bus North – leaving Tuesday on the health bus and returning Friday on BC Bus North. It saves her some money to take the health bus – about $15. BC Bus North runs from Valemount to Prince George and back every Monday and Friday.

Harmon doesn’t understand why they would limit the eligibility of passengers, when they rarely have a full bus – even with COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’ve taken it and been the only passenger there and the only passenger coming back.”

She said seniors use the bus to shop and visit friends and family in the city. She said the new rules will also interfere with seniors using the bus to visit loved ones in the hospital, since only those with appointments themselves are allowed to board.