The Canadian Red Cross is calling on volunteers in northern British Columbia to assist with its Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP), a free service offering medical equipment such as canes and wheelchairs to people recuperating from illness or surgery, or those spending their final days at home.

HELP has been in the north for 25 years and a recent significant surge in demand for equipment, prompting the need for volunteers.

According to Suzzette Byfield, HELP’s client services manager, the program experienced a nine per cent increase in loans, mainly for medical equipment needed following hip and knee surgeries.

Terrace, a pivotal hub for the HELP program, is particularly affected. Unlike the HELP initiatives in Kitimat and Prince Rupert, which operate within hospitals, the Red Cross in Terrace runs a standalone program. This branch also supports the efforts in Smithers, Kitimat and Prince Rupert, all supervised by a coordinator in Prince George.

Byfield emphasized the crucial role of volunteers in fulfilling HELP’s mission: “Volunteers are the bedrock of our community. They facilitate residents’ ability to recover comfortably at home.”

The program primarily serves seniors, who often require more equipment related to joint surgeries and those involved in accidents. The short-term equipment loan period usually spans three to six months at no cost to the borrower. Funding for HELP is provided by Northern Health and private donors.

“In northwest B.C., we served 1,902 people through the HELP program in 2022 alone,” Byfield stated. Kitimat and Terrace specifically served 240 and 645 people, respectively.

With the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic, B.C. has been grappling with a backlog of surgeries and procedures, deferred during the height of the outbreak. The province reported 350,886 surgeries performed in 2022, a four per cent increase compared to numbers from 2019 to 2020.

Byfield expressed gratitude for the continued support and funding, stating that HELP’s ultimate goal is to ensure adequate access through its volunteer force. The program is currently eyeing expansion in the northwest, longer operating hours and increased accessibility.

HELP equipment loans require a physician’s referral. The Terrace HELP office, located at 124-4720 Lazelle Ave., currently opens from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday, and 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Interested volunteers or those seeking more information can connect with the local office during these times.

Viktor Elias joined the Terrace Standard in April 2023.

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