RED CROSS MANAGER ‘OPTIMISTIC’ NEW HEALTH EQUIPMENT DEPOT WILL RE-OPEN IN OSOYOOS IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE
Posted on 21 February 2013 by Keith Lacey
A permanent new location has yet to be found and several more organizational meetings will have to be held, but there’s plenty of optimism that the Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) operated by the Canadian Red Cross will be returning to Osoyoos after all.
The decision to shut down the program created a lot of controversy – and upset citizens – when the Red Cross announced it was closing the depot that had been operating out of the Sonora Community Centre last July.
The HELP depot lent out equipment like canes, walkers, crutches, commodes and washing aids to local citizens. They could borrow the equipment for several weeks, but had to agree to return it after a set period of time.
Red Cross management decided to close the depot after longtime volunteer co-ordinator Charlotte Sanktjohanser announced she was retiring after more than 27 years of dedicated volunteerism in running the service.
The Red Cross announced an expanded HELP depot in Oliver would be available to Osoyoos residents, but that wasn’t a popular decision with members of town council or local citizens.
A volunteer group of citizens, along with town councillors Sue McKortoff and Michael Ryan, has been meeting for months to try and see if they could convince Red Cross management to re-establish a new HELP depot in town.
Red Cross regional manager John Richey met with members of the local volunteer committee on January 24 and had another meeting scheduled with Mayor Stu Wells last week to continue discussions and confirm the Red Cross is interested in bringing the program back to Osoyoos.
If it does return, it will be under a much more stringent and organized model, said Wells.
In a telephone interview while on vacation in Ontario last week, Richey confirmed the Red Cross is interested in opening another HELP depot in Osoyoos, as long as a suitable location can be found and the volunteer committee is willing to meet a long list of criteria to operate it.
“We’re working to get the details ironed out,” said Richey. “I’m meeting with Stu Wells and I will be meeting with the volunteer committee again in the near future.”
When asked directly if there’s a possibility a HELP depot will once again be operational in Osoyoos, Richey said it’s his opinion it’s going to happen.
“I think so. I think it can happen. I’m very optimistic,” said Richey.
Wells said Richey and his superiors with Red Cross management have made it very clear a new depot would have to operate much more efficiently than the old one and the town will have to make certain commitments as well to provide adequate space to operate the program.
“There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye,” said Wells. “Right now we don’t have the space and we need a minimum of 500 square feet. There are also going to be financial requirements like weekly and monthly reporting … and there’s going to have to be organizational things like ensuring equipment is sent away to Kelowna to be cleaned and maintained.
“If it’s going to be done, it’s going to have to be done right and there will have to be a whole new set of standards, but I don’t think it’s anything that can’t be overcome considering how many volunteers are interested in getting involved. That’s why we have to have more discussions to iron all of these things out.”
The volunteer committee, led by Virginia Cook, has done an amazing job in not taking no for an answer and letting Richey know this HELP depot provides an essential service in a community that is home to so many seniors, said Wells.
“I think the biggest reason this thing is back on the rails is because of this committee,” he said. “I know Mr. Richey was blown away and had so many compliments when he met recently with that committee.”
Cook and Trudy Johnston, who are members of the local committee, said they were both convinced after meeting with Richey that the Red Cross is open to changing its mind and opening a new and improved HELP depot in Osoyoos.
“When he walked out of that meeting on Jan. 24, I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that he was committed to helping us,” said Cook.
The depot should never have been closed in the first place, she said.
Even though an average of 10 people used the service, the reality is almost all the equipment was donated, Sanktjohanser did a fantastic job running the depot and it was helping citizens at little to no cost, she said.
“The first time I heard it was closing was through the newspaper … and they closed the doors a few days later,” she said. “For a service that had been offered in this town for 30 years, that was no way to do things and it made a lot of people very upset.”
Richey is a reasonable man and the committee is willing to continue meeting with him to ensure a new location can be found and a long list of volunteers are lined up to do whatever is needed to make the program a success, said Cook.
“When he walked out of that meeting everyone on the committee thought this was a done deal,” she said. “We were all so pleased with his response. We know we have to find a new location, but there are places in town we’re looking at. I have no doubt we can make this happen.”
Richey made it clear he would want the new depot to run more efficiently and the volunteer committee is willing to meet all demands made by Red Cross management, said Cook.
McKortoff said she is also optimistic the HELP depot will be returning soon.
“We’re looking at a number of options, but it’s clear certain things have to be done properly before the Red Cross will commit to this,” she said. “But we have a dedicated committee in place that is committed to this and I think we can work it out.”
As long as discussions continue, McKortoff is hopeful a suitable new location can be found in the coming weeks.
The local committee is hoping to meet again with Richey in the next few weeks to update progress.