This past fiscal year, the Campbell administration transferred $78.7 million to the Alberta government to pay for British Columbians being cared for by that province's health system. But those payments don't cover the accommodation and travel expenses for families whose relatives who are being treated east of the Rocky Mountains. Which brings us to the story of Kootenay Lake couple Dwayne and Melanie Folk.
Last February, Melanie, 31, found out she was having twins. But, says Dwayne, because the nearby Creston Valley Hospital didn't have the capability to perform the specific ultrasound tests she required, the couple started making regular trips to Vancouver's BC Women's Hospital for the scans. And that's when the "bullshit" began.
In April, doctors advised Melanie, due to complications, that she would need to stay in the hospital for the next three months until the babies were delivered. So Dwayne, a 40-year-old pipeline safety consultant, and the couple's daughter "basically moved to Vancouver, stayed in hotels for a while and got an apartment for three months." On May 1, though, they learned the twins would need to be delivered prematurely. And, due to a lack of beds, the procedure would have to be done in Edmonton.
"They told us they'll be a plane to get my wife in about an hour-and-a-half, two hours. And we're to find our own way to Edmonton. So we found our way to Edmonton on a West Jet flight later that night. We had the babies the next day." But doctors kept the twins in Edmonton for another month before transferring them Richmond Hospital where they stayed until early July.
The total price tag for the three-month ordeal, including items such as car rentals, extra clothing, food and phone bills: at least $27,224.28 by Dwayne's reckoning. And the government isn't picking-up a penny. In response to a request for compensation, Health Minister George Abbott told the family the "Medical Services Plan of BC does not cover the accommodation and travel costs for parents who travel to be with a child in hospital." But he suggested they apply to the Children's Charity of BC for a grant or that they "may be able to claim a portion of your expenses when completing your next tax return."
That response doesn't sit well with Dwayne. "I don't expect brain surgery" in Creston, whose regional district has an estimated population of 13,000. "But I do expect some level of care. And I would hope to expect some reimbursement for travels. They're saving money by not having those services anywhere near us - nowhere within six, seven hours of our place can you get those kind of services. So I don't see that as being fair that we pay for the same healthcare as Vancouver people" but don't have access to the same services. "We choose to live where do. And that's fine. But not everyone can live in Vancouver. The world doesn't go around like that."
Continued Dwayne, "This event could have actually changed our lives forever and put us in the poor house. We have some friends in Creston who just found out they're having twins and they have another little boy. And if she has to go to Vancouver like Melanie did, man they're in trouble. He works full-time. And if he had to work full-time and put they're kid in a daycare, that's a wash man. Not only is his wife alone in Vancouver and very stressed out - which isn't good for the baby - but they're going to be in some real financial hardships. I was lucky. I have enough money."
In an interview with Public Eye, health communications director Marisa Adair said government doesn't comment on specific medical cases. But she said if the province had a policy of paying for those kinds of travel and accommodation expenses, the cost would be "astronomical."
Still, "if a family is feeling they need some help with some of the costs for accommodation or travel and they're in a situation where they require it, then they can talk to their health authority. Sometimes the health authority may be able to provide them with assistance directly. Other times the health authority may go to a local non-profit foundation and ask for help on their behalf. So there is that mechanism for people who are in real need of help."
Moreover, Ms. Adair noted the provincial government has been working to expand medical services in rural British Columbia. But New Democrat health critic Adrian Dix says, "The dramatic increase in patients going to Alberta and Washington State is a reflection of cuts and centralization of services in the healthcare system. In light of this, when patients have to go outside of the province for services that aren't here, it makes sense to provide them with some assistance so they can get back safely and in a healthy way." The following is a complete copy of Minister Abbott's response to Wayne's request for compensation.
Mr. Dwayne and Mrs. Melanie Folk
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Folk:
Thank you for your email of June 19, 2007, requesting coverage for costs incurred while delivering your twins in Alberta. Please accept my congratulations on the birth of your children.
While every effort is made to care for ill or premature babies in British Columbia (BC) hospitals, this is not always possible during peak times when neonatal intensive care units must meet the needs of several very ill babies and their families at the same time. During these periods, health care teams in BC work with hospitals in Alberta or Washington to arrange care for mothers and babies until an appropriate bed is available in BC, or the mother or baby is discharged home. I can understand how stressful a transfer of this kind could be, especially when your family had already made arrangements to relocate temporarily in Vancouver. However, the decision to transfer is made to ensure that babies and mothers receive the level of care they need.
The Medical Services Plan of BC does not cover the accommodation and travel costs for parents who travel to be with a child in hospital. However, you may wish to contact Variety, The Children's Charity of BC, for information on their Individual and Emergency Response Fund Grants which are available for eligible families of children with medically recognized conditions. Funding is available for short term emergency expenses such as travel and accommodation for individuals who qualify. You will find detailed information on the grants, and how to submit an application, at: http://www.variety.bc.ca/index.php.
In addition, you may be able to claim a portion of your expenses when completing your next tax return. I suggest you contact the Canada Revenue Agency at: 1 800-959-8281, or consult with a qualified tax professional for information on claiming expenses of this kind.
I appreciate the opportunity to respond.
pc: Mr. Corky Evans, MLA, Nelson-Creston