Local organization restoring dignity to seniors in rural Nova Scotia

By Aldis Brennan

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As you age, you’re faced with many different changes. The aging process affects everyone differently – perhaps you’re noticing new aches and pains, or maybe you can’t hear quite as well as you used to. But, for those living in rural communities, the most difficult change to cope with is often the loss of independence.
“Older people would often change their schedules to suit others because they had to get rides with them when they went to the city,” Jessie Greenough said. “Can you imagine how degrading it must feel to constantly have to ask somebody when you want to go somewhere?”
Volunteer stands next to the van used for transporting clientsThis was the reality for seniors living in Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia where the nearest city centre is Halifax, a two-hour drive away.
“It’s really hard to explain to someone that’s never lived in a rural area,” Greenough said. “People say ‘Oh, well just call a cab.’ We don’t have cabs, we’re too rural. There’s no busses. So, if you don’t have a car you can’t get anywhere.”
But since 2016, local non-profit MusGo Riders Valley Sheet Harbour Cooperative Ltd., has stepped in to fill this gap. They provide low- or no-fee transportation to those who need it.
“They can go where they want, when they want, and stay as long as they want,” Greenough, Executive Director of MusGo Riders said. “They don’t have to work around somebody else’s schedule.”
The area MusGo Riders covers is vast, almost the size of Prince Edward Island. While there are some nearby hospitals, they can only provide basic services, for anything more, it’s a trip to Halifax.
“We actually take a [senior] two days a week for [critical] treatment, a two-hour drive each way and [they’re] at the hospital for four hours,” Greenough explained. “We’re very involved and they consider us part of the medical team because we’re often the only way to get them to their appointments.”
If MusGo Riders wasn’t able to offer a subsidized trip it would cost around $200 just to get to the doctor’s office, an amount unaffordable to someone living on a fixed income. Without this service many would just go without.
With the onset of COVID-19 this has become even more important. The MusGo Riders service continues to offer a way to stave off social isolation and provide access to essential resources, but it has also adapted.
“We’ve been doing a lot of food bank deliveries since COVID started. It’s kind of switched our world around, because before COVID we didn’t do any deliveries,” Greenough said. “But when COVID came we said stay at home, we’ll bring it to you because the majority of our clients are seniors, or they have some medical issues.”
The increased risk to their clientele has also meant heightened safety precautions. The drivers and clients now wear masks, no one is allowed to sit in the front seat, and they’ve installed a plastic separator between the front and rear sections. But the work continues because they know just how important it is.

Greenough described the situation of one community member who hasn’t left their house since the middle of March because they are “scared to death.”. The client is in a wheelchair and suffers from a number of health issues so is not comfortable leaving their house until the pandemic is over. In order to ensure their basic needs are met, MusGo Riders delivers them groceries and fills their prescriptions once a week.
For other’s it’s just about peace of mind.
“I think it helps a lot with their mental health, knowing that they have the ability to go somewhere if they need it,” Greenough said. “They may not use it all the time, but they know it’s there.”
This program was supported thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada's Emergency Community Support Fund.

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