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Without volunteers, Red Cross equipment loan depot may close

Prince Rupert patients may have to access crutches and wheelchairs from the Terrace depot
The Red Cross Equipment Loan Program in Prince Rupert needs volunteers or it might have to shut down, forcing patients to go to Terrace to loan health equipment. (Pixabay photo)

Soon, patients may have to travel to Terrace to loan wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes.

The Red Cross equipment loan depot at the Prince Rupert hospital is in desperate need for volunteers.

“Unfortunately, if we don’t have any more people to run the depot, the clients themselves would have to make arrangements to get equipment from other areas,” said Sandra Sawtell, Canadian Red Cross Health Equipment Loan Program client services coordinator.

From 2017 to 2018, the Prince Rupert office loaned 556 items, such as wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and bathroom aids to 347 people in the area — a 20 per cent jump over the past five years.

However, the rise in demand has met a decline in volunteers.

There are four volunteers who have been offering their services every Thursday for the past 15-27 years and they’re stepping down, some have to leave due to health issues.

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“Which leaves us being very short on volunteers,” Sawtell said.

One young woman recently joined the team. She’s “optimistic and refreshing, and that’s a start, but one youth is not enough. She’s also in school, so her hours are limited.”

Physiotherapists and health practitioners at the hospital do have access outside depot hours for urgent and emergency discharges.

“The service provided by the program does support patients in their rehabilitation and recovery through access to equipment. We are committed to working collaboratively with the Red Cross and it’s volunteer program to lessen the impact any disruption to the loan program might have,” said Heidi Johns, health services administrator with Northern Health.

“But that’s really a lot to ask them to be getting that equipment,” Sawtell said.

Red Cross has 80 depots across the province that are run by volunteers.

Sawtell is currently in Prince Rupert, trying to persuade community members to join the team. Lack of volunteers forced the Red Cross depots in Hazelton and Vanderhoof to close their doors, and she doesn’t want that to happen here.

If it did happen, patients would have to travel to the nearest depots in Terrace and Kitimat. The Terrace depot, Sawtell said, is an ideal example of what she’d like to see in Prince Rupert.

“They’re open Tuesdays and Thursdays. They have probably 10 people on their team. They rotate between them. They’ve got two people sharing the team leader role, which is great, and then they have a few people doing administration and some just doing direct client services,” she said.

The Red Cross is looking for three volunteers, a team leader and administration. All will be trained accordingly.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross can go to, email, or call 1-844-818-2155.

RELATED: VIDEO and story: Red Cross loan program looks to expand

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