Red Cross attributes program changes to lack of volunteers

PORT HAWKESBURY: An equipment loan program offered by the Canadian Red Cross will no longer be offered through a local business.

The Canadian Red Cross announced on May 14 that it is changing their Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) service in Port Hawkesbury that provides free, short-term loans of wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, commodes, bath-transfer seats and other mobility aids for people recovering from injury, illness or surgery.

Since 2014, HELP items could be both picked up and returned to a depot inside The Medicine Shoppe pharmacy on Reeves Street in Port Hawkesbury, thanks to space donated by pharmacist Michael Hatt and supported by volunteers. Effective immediately, the Red Cross said equipment can no longer be picked up from the Port Hawkesbury location but can still be returned there.

Dan Bedell, communications director, Atlantic with the Canadian Red Cross explained their depots are geographically spread across the province, usually located in areas with a regional hospital, like Sydney or Antigonish.

“A little depot inside somebody’s business is not typically how these loans are done,” he noted. “A lot of times this equipment is loaned out for people who are recovering from surgery, or hospitalization for some other reason. Often they pick up this equipment upon discharge from hospital. There’d be less of that at the Strait-Richmond.”

All HELP loans for residents of Richmond, southern Inverness and Guysborough counties, as well as Antigonish County, will be issued from the Canadian Red Cross office at 36 Market Street in Antigonish, where the majority of loans were already being processed. The Red Cross will transport items that are still returned to the Port Hawkesbury depot back to Antigonish, thanks to funding support from the Eastern Zone of the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Bedell said the loaned equipment is returned to Antigonish because it needs to be sanitized and maintained according to specifications required by Accreditation Canada.

“When we lend that equipment out… we have to make sure it is the right size and the right fit for them and it meets what their doctor, or their physiotherapist, or other health provider has specified what they need,” Bedell said.

He said service centre staff in Antigonish are trained to meet these strict requirements, but in Port Hawkesbury, Bedell said the Red Cross was unable to maintain enough active volunteers to offer those services, even on a part-time basis.

“We require that certain standards be met, and it’s just more difficult to do that when it’s not our own facility, not always our own volunteers and we don’t have enough volunteers to ensure that we can provide reliable hours that we can publicize,” Bedell noted. “We tried to maintain a certain number of volunteers, and when you’re doing this several days a week… you require a number of volunteers to be available to maintain those hours. It’s difficult to do that and we’ve tried to recruit more, that hasn’t been successful.”

HELP loans for northern Inverness and other areas of Cape Breton are issued by volunteers at the Canadian Red Cross service centre at 1140 Upper Prince Street in Sydney.

HELP loans are typically for up to three months and require a written recommendation from a doctor or other health-care provider. More information is on-line at:

The Red Cross will also accept donations of used mobility aids in good condition that can be added to its HELP inventory. Anyone interested in donating equipment or who previously borrowed equipment but hasn’t returned it, or is interested in volunteering with the program, can call between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, at 902-863-8222 in Antigonish or 902-564-4114 in Sydney.

Bedell added the Red Cross is grateful to The Medicine Shoppe for renovating the business to offer and support HELP for the past four years.