Brent Bidston is the president of Angel Flight East Kootenay. Black Press file photo.

Brent Bidston is the president of Angel Flight East Kootenay. Black Press file photo.

RDEK speeds up grant funding to local medical transport service

While the total dollar amount committed to Angel Flight East Kootenay remains the same, more funding will come in faster

A volunteer medical transport service will be getting some local government funding support faster than anticipated.

Angel Flight East Kootenay, a volunteer service that transports Kootenay-based patients to specialist medical appointments in the Okanagan, was awarded with a $500,000 grant from the Regional District of East Kootenay earlier this year, to be delivered in $100,000 instalments over five years.

However, given that the volunteer organization is attempting to purchase a new aircraft, a request was made to accelerate the funding schedule in order to deliver $300,000 this year, and $50,000 annually for the next four years.

With a larger amount of money being made available earlier on the grant delivery schedule, Brent Bidston, the president of Angel Flight East Kootenay, can acquire an aircraft sooner than anticipated, while also solving challenges that have arisen with bank loan financing.

During RDEK committee meetings on Thursday, Bidston told board directors that Angel Flight East Kootenay was having challenges getting bank loan approvals in a timely fashion when a suitable aircraft was identified.

“This makes the purchase difficult because we’re making an offer to someone but we don’t have the money,” Bidston said. “So they have to trust that we’re going to get the money and they’re going to have to wait for the money.

“So it just makes it that much more difficult to get the purchase through.”

Bidston emphasized that he was asking for an accelerated timeline and not any additional funding on top of the $500,000 that was already approved by the RDEK board earlier this year.

During discussions at the board meeting on June 4, RDEK directors wrestled with accommodating the request while also ensuring promised financial oversight would remain in place.

“We’ve told him we’re going to give him $500,000,” said Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt. “If we have to give him $300,000 earlier so that they can proceed in getting to buying the plane and getting on with what they want to do, then why are we making this so difficult?”

Other directors were concerned that additional funding options hadn’t been explored or exhausted.

“I’m really struggling with this decision because I support the work that they do,” said Susan Clovechok, the director for Area F. “I think it’s brilliant work, I think it’s really, really important, but I think we have to be very, very cautious when we come to spend half a million dollars of tax dollars.”

Angel Flight East Kootenay was established in 2019 by Bidston and Todd Weslake in the Elk Valley as a volunteer medical transport service, taking patients from the Kootenays to Kelowna for specialist medical appointments.

The service eliminates a long round trip by vehicle, which can mean a two-day round trip, sometimes for medical appointments that may only last 10 minutes.

Acquiring a pressurized aircraft will allow Angel Flight to conduct more flights in more challenging weather conditions.