Sault 'single largest community' supported regularly by Hope Air for medical travel

In Sault Ste. Marie last year, Hope AIir completed 931 travel arrangements for 100 patients.

Hope Air needs to ink an agreement with the provincial government to ensure it can keep pace with the increasing travel needs patients have to get the health care they require.

And Sault Ste. Marie is the single largest community in Ontario of patients that are supported by Hope Air on a regular basis, said the charitable organizations CEO Mark Rubinstein.

Hope Air provides free medical travel programs to assist patients living in numerous small, remote or rural communities across Ontario. It provides airline, hotel, meals and ground transportation programs for patients to access healthcare not available close to home.

The programs support patients who cannot afford the significant expenses associated with travelling for diagnostic testing, treatment, and follow-up care for a variety of health conditions including Cancer, Cardiovascular, Diabetes, Respiratory, Orthopedic, Mental Health, Autism, and Pediatric conditions among many others.

Patients are often transported to specialty medical care hospitals such as Sick Kids, Princess Margaret Cancer Care and Mount Sinai, among others.

About 25 per cent of Hope Air’s patients are children.

Hope Air does not currently receive funding from the Ontario government.

The charitable organization operates exclusively by donations in Ontario but has made inroads in other provinces to establish funding partnerships with provincial governments including British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland & Labrador.

It’s trying to do the same in Ontario, Rubinstein said in a telephone interview with The Sault Star.

“Where you live should not determine if you live,” he said.

While Hope Air has been historically able to meet the modest demand through its charitable donations, the COVID-19 pandemic changed that.

Patients travel has resumed – and skyrocketed – since the pandemic.

Hope Air made record high travel arrangements in 2023, organizing 3,367 trips to medical facilities for those who needed it most, marking an increase of 165 per cent from previous years.

While that increase is partly due to the pandemic, it’s also because many are struggling with financial challenges just to make ends meet and the cost of travelling hundreds of kilometres away for medical treatment is an added burden.

“With soaring demand from families and children in need who turn to Hope Air, we must continue to find ways to answer their call. As demand grows exponentially, exceeding our available resources, we must come together – government, health care sector, private sector, donors and volunteers – to support the unique role that Hope Air plays in Ontario. Equitable access to health care – despite distance or financial means – is a fundamental right,” Rubinstein said.

Hope Air is hoping to partner with the Ontario government to ensure no one is left behind. It has also completed a 50-community tour to tell Hope Air’s story and ensure communities understand the impact on members if it doesn’t have the funding to help with medical travel.

Rubinstein said the government is “generally supportive” and understands demand for the service isn’t going to decrease.

While the lack of primary health care providers is growing in Sault Ste. Marie and other parts of the Northern Ontario, Rubinstein said government financial support ensures patients are getting the healthcare they deserve.

“This is an easy fix for life-saving issues that require travel,” Rubinstein said. “We just need stable funding to help us meet the demand. There is no reason why long-distance travel should be a barrier.”

Hope Air completed travel arrangements for more than 1,736 flights, facilitating access to medical care for families, individuals and children from across Ontario last year.

In Sault Ste. Marie last year, it completed 931 travel arrangements for 100 patients.

Since Hope Air’s inception, 9,855 travel arrangements have been made for 904 patients in Sault Ste. Marie.

In November, city council passed a resolution which asked Mayor Matthew Shoemaker to pen a letter to the Ontario government in support of Hope Air. The letter was sent to Health Minister Sylvia Jones, MPP Ross Romano and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Since its inception in 1986, Hope Air has provided more than 170,000 travel arrangements for patients. The organization anticipates it will be asked to serve 18,000 patients by 2025.

Patients seeking support for medical travel needs can apply online to Hope Air at or call 1-877-346-4673.

We acknowledge that we live and work on the unceded, traditional territories of many Indigenous peoples. We are grateful for the privilege of being on lands that these peoples have nurtured since time immemorial.