The Gabriola Ambulance Society, affordable memberships for all

Krysta Reed

Sounder News

Wednesday, July 24 2019

For the past 50 years, the Gabriola Ambulance Society (GAS) has stayed committed to making life on Gabriola and Mudge islands a little easier for its residents, by offering affordable memberships, providing ambulatory services and medical equipment, and investing generously in the communities.

GAS is a non-profit organization that offers three core services to its members: reimbursement of BCEHS ambulance user fees; equipment loans; and home assistance. The annual membership is $40 for individuals or families (two adults and children under 19 years of age) with an additional $5 for each child in the home over the age of 19). Memberships are accepted year-round and renewals are due by January 2 of each year.

Seasonal and full-time residents can submit membership applications online at the GAS website: http://gabriolaambulancesociety.org/ or in person at the Gabriola Post Office, IDA Island Pharmacy and both medical clinics.

If a person is a BC resident and has MSP coverage, the cost of being transported by ambulance from Gabriola is $80. If paramedics come to your door, the cost is $50. These are fees that are reimbursed by GAS if you are a member.

The GAS membership is half the cost of one ambulance ride with BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) and there is no limit on the ambulance trips that GAS will reimburse to its members. This is a significant savings for members who use ambulatory services.

The Gabriola Ambulance Society is run by volunteers, with two paid positions - Administrator/Membership and Equipment Manager. 

Penny Cook, Administrator/Membership (GabriolaAmbulanceSociety@shaw.ca), has worked for the Gabriola Ambulance Society since 2014.  

Cook says that the “current membership for 2019 is 614 families. That is one to five people in a household.” 

Cook explains that “having new members sign up for the society has been a challenge. With 600+ members and 4000+ residents on Gabriola Island, this is just a portion of the local people.

“Young families don’t see this as being something they have a need for. Finances might be an issue.

“It’s not children that take the ambulance, this is rare. It’s normally adults and elderly people.

“The paramedics do a great job talking about the ambulance society when they go on their calls.”

Cook says, “Getting from Mudge to a hospital takes that much longer. So, when 911 is called, the severity of the situation will determine how the patient is transported to the hospital. It could be a boat to Gabriola and then the ambulance from there. But it is usually the Coast Guard or whichever emergency agency can respond the quickest and it may be boat or helicopter. The severity may mean the helicopter goes direct to Victoria. The $80 ambulance fee [is] still covered by GAS for members.”

Cook says, “Our goals as a society are to continue to serve the residents on Gabriola with ambulatory care. As the face of health care changes on Gabriola, the Gabriola Ambulance Society will continue to evolve to support its members.”

Home assistance is also available to GAS members who may apply for reimbursement of up to 20 hours of short-term home assistance with a maximum of $400 yearly. Membership must be paid within two weeks of the need for service, or a membership application must be received within 90 days of the home assistance being required. A letter/referral from a physician is also required for this service.

Cook says, “Once per calendar year they can apply for home support. Usually single people, who don’t have family to help them. Such as [someone with] a broken hip.” Light housekeeping, cooking of meals, and bathing are some of the services available in the home.

Through received legacies, donations and contributions over the years, the Gabriola Ambulance Society’s philanthropic efforts have amounted to generous contributions to the community: 

Donations to the Gabriola Community Health Centre, located at 695 Church Street

• 2009 - $25,000 towards general building of the facility.

• 2011 - $10,000 towards construction of the helipad.

• 2015 - $2,500 towards stainless steel equipment carts for the emergency treatment rooms.

• 2018 - $3,400 to replace the controller for the helipad lights.

• The purchase of an AED (automatic external defibrillator) for the Rollo Centre.

• A $2,500 annual scholarship awarded to a Gabriola student pursuing post-secondary education in a medical related field. The latest recipient is Finn Bradbrooke. 

• A 50 per cent subsidy towards registration fees at Gabriola Recreation Society for people attending first aid courses on Gabriola Island.

Cook says, “We’re not just a membership raising money every year [to provide services to the community], we continue to contribute to the community.”

 “If there was a need and initiative that came along, we would be interested in [considering it] to support the community.”

Janet Ware (GAS.equip.loans@gmail.com), has been the new Equipment Manager at GAS since June 2019. She moved to Gabriola from Nanaimo two years ago and joined the GAS Board in December 2018. Ware has been a nurse for 35 years with Veteran Affairs.  

Because of Ware’s nursing background, she says, “I have the knowledge and background to help people find equipment that suits them best. It’s a good fit for me. I’m very happy about taking this on.”

“I really enjoy it, dealing with people and fixing problems; finding solutions to their condition.”

“It’s a really valuable service for the community. It’s for everyone’s benefit.”

Members can borrow medical equipment for up to three months: wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, commodes, shower seats, canes, hand-held reachers and raised toilet seats. Donations of medical equipment are accepted by GAS.

The demographics of members on Gabriola and Mudge islands are predominantly elderly and many undergo hip and/or knee surgeries. But children can fall and break a leg or arm; that’s when GAS can be an instrumental medical resource to families. 

Ware says, “If you need a wheelchair, it’s here. It’s convenient. You don’t have the capital outlay of buying the equipment [and you are] supporting what is available in your own community.”

There is no limit on the amount of medical equipment borrowed. As Ware explains, “It all depends on availability.” 

Medical equipment can be purchased and repaired at several medical supply places in Nanaimo, such as at BC Centric Health.

The online version of this story on soundernews.com will include a link of interest to “A History of the Gabriola Ambulance Society: “Gabriola’s ambulance service— the first 25 years, 1969–94” by Jenni Gehlbach. 

Editor’s note, with wording from the Gabriola Ambulance Society. People often confuse the Gabriola Ambulance Society organization with the BC Ambulance Service (BCEHS), which operates the ambulance on Gabriola. The BCEHS is a separate organization and is not responsible for GAS equipment loans or membership applications. In the event of an emergency, please call 911.