Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society connecting with patients even after suspending service

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society to park its service, but it hasn’t hit the brakes on care for patients.

The volunteer organization, which through a network of dispatchers and drivers offers patients free rides to their appointments at hospitals and cancer treatment centres throughout much of Metro Vancouver, halted its operations last month in order to protect the health of its patients and volunteer drivers during the ongoing novel coronavirus crisis.

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The temporary suspension came at the behest of the BC Cancer Agency, to protect cancer patients who are typically immunocompromised.

Most of the organization’s drivers are over the age of 60 and therefore at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to George Garrett, who co-founded Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society in 2016.

But although they can’t give rides right now, their dispatchers have endeavoured to stay in contact with all of their patients, said Garrett.

“The drivers were really distressed about having to give up the service because a lot of them had formed a bond with their patients,” said Garrett. “Some of them felt like they were abandoning them, but we had no choice.”

The volunteer organization’s chief dispatcher had the idea of phoning every patient to find out how they're coping amid the suspension of service and to let them know their drivers hadn’t forgotten about them, said Garrett.

The volunteer organization, which gave rides to more than 973 different patients last year and has many volunteer drivers and patients on the North Shore, has so far reached out and checked in with more than 120 patients and plans to call the whole lot, said Garrett. The organization also wants to maintain connection with its patients in order to establish a plan once service can safely resume again.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many people into quarantine, more patients have had to rely on family members for rides or, in some cases, use taxi vouchers issued by the BC Cancer Agency.

Patients have so far been delighted to have been called by dispatchers from the organization, said Garrett.

“We want to reach out to them, we want them to know that we’re still there for them,” he said.

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