Single mother still on the hook for thousands in air bill
Critics say it’s “shameful” that the Alberta and Ontario governments are not stepping up to help a single mother who was saddled with an air ambulance bill of up to $ 30,000.
“This is an awful story about someone falling through a gap that should not exist,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “The Alberta government should be ashamed of itself for putting the family through this.”
Amy Savill, an Alberta resident, was visiting family in Northern Ontario when she went into labour almost two months early.
She was rushed to the Timmins hospital, but staff there were not equipped to deal with premature births before 32-weeks gestation.
Savill had to be transported by air ambulance to a Sudbury hospital — a trip that she has been told may cost her between $ 10,000 and $ 30,000.
When asked about Savill’s case, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she was aware of the situation and that it was a “concern” she would discuss with her fellow provincial leaders.
“It’s something we should be talking about at the premiers’ table. How do we make sure that we’re doing everything we can to allow people across the country to have an even experience no matter where they are in the country?” she said.
Cheryl Otaes, a spokesperson for the Alberta Premier’s Office, confirmed the bill is not covered by provincial health care but described Savill’s situation as “unique and exceptional” and said the premier’s office would like to meet with the family to see if they can help them.
“We don’t have a commitment that we’ll pay all or part of the cost, but we can commit that we’ll look into it and see what we can do,” she said.
Even if the governments do step up to help Savill, experts say her story is just one of many and that it illustrates existing gaps in inter-provincial health coverage.
NDP health critic France Gelinas said Savill is just the most recent woman with an at-risk pregnancy to suffer because of cuts in medical services. Many Northern Ontario women have to take a “long helicopter ride” to give birth.
Gelinas said Ontario’s extensive use of medical transport in rural and northern areas puts it in a unique position to advocate for transport coverage in Canada.
“Because we do a whole lot more patient transport in Ontario than anywhere else, it is our responsibility to set the tone and say those are medically necessary services,” she said.
Mehra said the federal government has been inactive in protecting Canadians under the Canada Health Act and Medicare for many years — regardless of where they are in the country.
She said forcing Savill to pay the airfare would be “totally lacking in compassion.”
“No Canadian would find it easy to pay $ 30,000 for an ambulance that was medically necessary,” said Mehra. “It’s unreasonable to put people through this kind of trauma, particularly after having a very premature baby.”
Although she’s still on the hook for thousands of dollars, Savill said she received some good news today.
A man from Montreal offered to put her up in a Sudbury apartment free of charge so she can stay close to her newborn daughter.
Regardless of whether she receives government assistance, Savill said, she’s hopeful her story will make a difference.
“I would love for anybody to make the bill go away, but also I hope it brings enough awareness that something can be changed.”
TORONTO STAR | NEWS | CANADA