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Seniors transportation service navigating rocky COVID road

Just Ask Lynda has been hit hard by government regulations and the pandemic
20220511 just ask lynda
Lynda Flisak, owner of a senior transportation serivce Just Call Lynda, stands outside her van while on location to pick up a client.

It's a service that's been more than just about getting someone from one point to another.

But it's one that's been devastated by the pandemic, whether it's been financial difficulties, government regulations, or having about 60 per cent of her clients pass away after contracting COVID-19.

Since 2017, Just Call Lynda has been driving seniors in the Guelph area to medical appointments, grocery shopping, or to just grab a cup of coffee with friends.

"I got some pretty specialized clients," owner Lynda Flisak told GuelphToday.

"(For example), I take a gentleman out every Tuesday morning from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and we just drive on the outskirts of the city."

"He doesn't talk because he has frontotemporal dementia, and his joy in life is just driving. For two hours, I do this so his wife has two hours respite."

Flisak's mother Georgina had dementia and died in 2014. 

Flisak got certified and started the business in her memory, and helps not only seniors get around, but takes the lessons she's learned to help family members navigate a road that can be unpredictable.

Families including the Galluccio's. Maria Galluccio's 74-year-old sister developed Lewy body dementia about three years ago.

"There's so many struggles that you have to deal with, but to feel that the transportation part is kind of looked after, or there for you, and you have someone who is supportive, that means a lot," said Galluccio.

She said Lynda's service provides comfort, knowing that Lynda is not only doing the driving, but ensuring that her sister gets in and out of appointments and back to her retirement home safely.

Paula Deane's father was also diagnosed with dementia, and needed to find someone to take him to appointments after using up her vacation days at work to take care of him.

"Having to take care of his appointments, and my mother's appointments, it was just overwhelming and I couldn't do it anymore," she said.

She said her dad would have an appointment in Kitchener, and Lynda would walk with him inside and leave her card with the receptionist to let her know he was ready to be picked up.

Deane commended the service, noting she became more than just a transportation option, but also a family friend that goes the extra mile.

But with multiple hurdles to deal with, Flisak is exploring options just to keep her business alive.

"Everything was looking good, and then 2020 put the brakes on so fast," she said.

It's been a myriad of things she's had to deal with, including an initial five-month shutdown of her business, prompted by the city's State of Emergency.

Flisak was able to get her hands on some government funding at first, but was cut off afterwards due to another hurdle: she was told her seniors transportation business was classified as a "limousine service" and didn't qualify as essential.

The money she did get was enough to sustain her for a bit, but combined with the sharp decrease in clientele, the well is running dry.

"I've lost 80 clients since the beginning of COVID, that have passed away," Flisak said. "And I've had 13 move into long-term care, or close to family."

She added January's lockdown in Ontario "financially broke" her, and some confusion over whether she needed to charge GST/HST has resulted in even more hardship.

It's a hardship that put her in a position of wanting to close later this month. But after a conversation with her financial advisor, Flisak reconsidered.

"I still owe the government back taxes, as they see only black and white and categorize me as a limousine service," Flisak said.

"If I got 130 clients a month like before, I would have no problem," she added. "I would be able to make all these payments. But with only about 37 clients a month, I've dipped into my savings account just to keep my business going."

Flisak said she knows the business can bounce back because there's a lot of seniors out there, but not enough know about the service she offers.

"I'm not going down lightly," she said. "I'm fighting to the death, I'm doing everything I can."