Posted on 22 August 2012 by Keith Lacey
The regional manager for the Canadian Red Cross said he’s willing to reconsider the organization’s decision to close the Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) depot that closed in Osoyoos three weeks ago.
After meeting with members of Town of Osoyoos council Monday and listening to several seniors who showed up to voice their concerns, John Ritchie said he’s willing to meet with local volunteers to try and come up with a plan that could see the HELP depot open in another location in Osoyoos.
When asked by Mayor Stu Wells if the Red Cross would reconsider what appeared to be a final decision to offer the services out of a depot in Oliver, Ritchie said he would be open to anything that best serves the needs of Red Cross clients.
“Certainly we would reconsider,” said Ritchie, whose official title is regional manager of the Southern Interior for the Canadian Red Cross Society.
When Wells suggested a committee made up of community volunteers and two members of council should be formed to look at all options, Ritchie said he believes that’s a very good idea.
“We would have no objection to that …we would offer assistance and advice,” said Ritchie. “The Red Cross does the program, but we need volunteers to run it and we would offer to work as partners.”
A committee made up of interested local volunteers and town councillors Sue McKortoff and Michael Ryan was then officially formed and will be meeting with Ritchie in the next few days to discuss options that could see a HELP depot re-established in Osoyoos.
Ritchie and members of council made it very clear the old location on the top floor of the Sonora Community Centre was not a good one and a new location will be sought if and when the HELP depot returns to Osoyoos.
Ritchie apologized for the lack of communication within the Town of Osoyoos, admitting Red Cross management made the decision several weeks ago to close the Osoyoos depot once longtime volunteer co-ordinator Charlotte Sanktjohanser announced back in May that she would be retiring following 27 years of dedicated service.
Sanktjohanser did an outstanding job in operating the HELP depot for more than a quarter century, he said.
Ritchie stood firm when he said the Red Cross has made a concerted effort to recruit volunteers over the past five years to donate their time to assist Sanktjohanser in running the depot without any success.
Considering an average of only five people use the service each week, Red Cross management made the decision to amalgamate programs in Osoyoos and Oliver by expanding the current depot in Oliver once Sanktjohanser stepped down, he said.
“It had been our plan for some time to amalgamate the Osoyoos and Oliver depots,” he said. “The consolidation we have seen here is one we pursued out of necessity.”
The expanded depot in Oliver not only has more space and more volunteers, but is closer to the regional centre in Kelowna, where all equipment like canes, crutches, walkers and bath aids are inspected and cleaned, he said.
Before Ritchie agreed to meet with the new committee and reconsider the Red Cross decision to close the Osoyoos depot, Wells told him many people in this community were very upset because it happened without notice and too suddenly.
“It really struck a nerve,” said Wells. “We don’t want any deterioration of services in our town. It has got the town quite upset.”
Wells said he had a list of six volunteers on his desk within days of the Red Cross announcing they were closing the Osoyoos depot and that list has only grown over the past month.
McKortoff told Ritchie the major concern of residents was the decision to close the depot was made without any consultation of local citizens or members of council.
Sue Poelera, who works at the Osoyoos Seniors Centre, echoed the same comments.
“We were all sort of in shock because it was all done so quick,” she said. “Mr. Ritchie, you surprised us and you shocked us and you sort of ticked us off.”
Local senior Virginia Cook said taking this valuable service out of Osoyoos offended a lot of people because it has been offered for so long and the decision to close the depot was made quickly and without consultation.
“We just resent anything being done without any of us being asked to help,” she said.
Ryan said he’s been on council for five years and has never heard anything about the Red Cross trying to recruit volunteers for the HELP depot or lack of success in doing so.
The new committee will report back to council once it meets with Ritchie and decides the next course of action.
Ritchie, who lives in Vernon but works out of Kelowna, told members of council that there are 36 HELP depots in the Southern Interior and 77 spread across the entire province.
All of the equipment that is loaned out is donated by members of the public and all of the equipment has to be inspected and cleaned for this region by volunteers at the depot in Kelowna, he said.