Posted on 12 September 2012 by Keith Lacey
The Canadian Red Cross is willing to lend expertise and advice, but it will not be re-opening its Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) depot in Osoyoos, says John Richey, regional manager for the Southern Interior.
A local group of 30 volunteers, headed by local senior Virginia Cook, has stepped forward to offer their services to help operate a HELP depot at a new location in Osoyoos. The former location at the Sonora Community Centre was too small, said Cook.
A new committee, that included representation from town councillors Michael Ryan and Sue McKortoff, was formed following a presentation three weeks ago by Richey before town council, where he stated the Red Cross would reconsider bringing a HELP depot back to town if enough volunteers could be found.
Richey said he thought he made it clear to members of council and during a phone call with McKortoff that he and other Red Cross staff are willing to help a new committee start up their own health equipment loan service, but it will not be operated or have any affiliation with the Red Cross.
“I’ve made it very clear I would be more than willing to help out in any way I can” but the decision to close the Osoyoos HELP depot and expand its depot in Oliver is final, said Richey.
After longtime volunteer co-ordinator Charlotte Sanktjohanser informed the Red Cross back in May that she was going to step down after 27 years of dedicated service in running the HELP depot, Richey said a decision was made to close the Osoyoos depot at the end of July.
It was also decided to expand the current services being offered in Oliver as the depot there had recently expanded, he said.
While the Red Cross should have better communicated its plans to close the Osoyoos HELP depot, the reality is it was only assisting less than five clients per week, said Richey.
“”There are very few places in the province where our clients access our services that aren’t at least a 15-minute drive away,” said Richey. “Most people have transportation, be it on their own or with family members or friends, and we don’t feel offering this service in Oliver is going to be a tremendous disadvantage to our clients in Osoyoos.
“If there are people who can’t access our services, we would be more than willing to assist to arrange transportation.”
Richey said he’s sorry if some people thought the decision to close the Osoyoos HELP depot was temporary and might be changed.
“It is a final decision,” he said. “I’m sorry if the impression given was different and we are more than willing to help this new community group that has been established in any way we can, but we’ve made a decision to close the depot in Osoyoos and expand our services in Oliver and that won’t be changing.”
McKortoff said she did talk with Richey the day after his presentation to council and made it very clear there are enough volunteers more than willing to step in to run a HELP depot at a new location in Osoyoos.
Mayor Stu Wells, with unanimous support from members of town council, sent off a letter two weeks ago to Richey, asking the Red Cross to reconsider its position to close the depot in Osoyoos and inform him about the 30 volunteers who have stepped forward to run it.
“We’ve written the letter and I haven’t spoken to Mr. Richey since that discussion so I’m not going to comment until he’s formally written a response,” said McKorfoff.
Cook said the new committee has numerous locations available and more than enough volunteers to operate it and she refuses to accept the Red Cross decision to close the Osoyoos depot.
“We believe we have put forward a reasonable plan and wish to meet with the Red Cross Society and reinstate our Red Cross HELP program as soon as possible,” she said.
None of the volunteers that have been recruited accept Richey’s opinion that the decision to close the depot in Osoyoos is final, said Cook.
“We have the volunteers and ideas needed to make the program work and we expect the full support of the Red Cross Society in continuing their valuable service to the Town of Osoyoos,” she said.
No one in town knew the Red Cross intended to close the Osoyoos depot once Sanktjohanser announced she was stepping down, said Cook.
Richey reiterated he is willing to meet with the committee and volunteers in the future to help them plan and organize a similar service here in Osoyoos, but it won’t be supported or directly affiliated with the Red Cross.
“We’re more than willing to do anything we can to assist this new group,” he said.
The new volunteer committee established in Osoyoos will meet once again after they receive official confirmation from Richey in a letter and then plan their next course of action, said McKortoff.
Meanwhile, local resident Susan Bayliss has offered to provide transportation to and from the HELP depot in Oliver.
She will also pick up equipment for anyone who needs it if they aren’t feeling well enough to travel to Oliver.
Bayliss can be reached during the day at 250-495-2599.