A Labrador couple is questioning why the government wasn’t there to help them during a time of medical turmoil.
Cecil Dumaresque, 62, of L’Anse au Clair has a number of medical conditions. Through January, he and his wife Eileen, 55, had to travel to St. John’s, then Corner Brook, then St. Anthony for his medical appointments.
Since Jan. 27, they have been staying at the hostel adjoining Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony.
Despite the fact that travel and accommodation expenditures exceed what they can afford, they haven’t been unable to find any financial support through the government.
The couple say they’ve had to rely solely on the donations of friends and family as well as the St. Anthony food bank.
To them, the government should show more responsibility to its medical patients.
Cecil and Eileen are speaking out about their experience because they believe the government should be there to help individuals like them during these desperate hours.
Cecil suffers from a variety of medical issues, including cold urticaria (allergic to cold), depression, cellulitis, bowel disease and heart trouble. He has also had a hip replacement, spinal repair and a back surgery.
He has been unable to work since 2016.
The Dumaresque’s ordeal all started on Jan. 9 when the couple travelled to St. John’s for a reassessment of Cecil’s allergies.
But during his visit, the doctor also diagnosed him with heart trouble. However, he was unable to get an appointment with a heart specialist at that time.
After getting bloodwork done for his allergies, entailing a three-day stay in St. John’s, they travelled to Corner Brook. But a heart specialist wasn’t available there yet either.
They travelled to St. Anthony on Jan. 27 for another procedure scheduled for the following day.
After that procedure, Eileen says her husband “took sick” and the St. Anthony doctor determined he was in no condition to return home.
That’s when their protracted stay at the hostel in St. Anthony commenced.
On Jan. 28, their daughter brought their mail to them from L’Anse au Clair. When Eileen opened a letter from the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour, she was shocked.
It stated her husband was not available for any income support because she, as a seasonal worker, was collecting employment insurance.
“It broke my heart,” Eileen told The Northern Pen. “I said to my husband, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do this. We have to seek financial help somewhere.’”
She inquired with her MHA and MP, but she says their offices told her there was nothing available for Cecil.
She didn’t stop there and looked into whether her husband could receive Canadian Pension Plan Disability benefits, but Cecil was ineligible for that because he had already been collecting a pension for over six months.
Then she called a government office in St. John’s who, she says, told her to ask to speak to a supervisor with the Canada Pension Plan. Those efforts didn’t help matters either.
In the meantime, to afford their stay at the hostel and pay off their share of the Medical Transportation Assistance Program, they received donations from family and friends back home, as well as from Cecil’s former employee, the Labrador Fishermen’s Union Shrimp Company, and the L’Anse au Clair emergency fund.
They also received food donations through the St. Anthony food bank.
The couple are grateful for the support they received, as they don’t know how they could have stayed in St. Anthony without it.
But they feel the provincial government should do more to ensure people in situations like theirs are able to afford travel and accommodations for medical services.
“To me, there should be a program out there to help people that need the help,” she said. “The only thing that is keeping us afloat, that we were able to stay this long for my husband to be diagnosed and treated, was through donations and the food bank.
“Where is our government to when we need them?” she asks.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Cecil received treatment for his ailments and his condition improved. He is now well enough to travel back to L’Anse au Clair.
When the couple spoke to The Northern Pen on Wednesday, Feb. 20, they were hoping to return home that Friday.
But there are more travels in the future, and with that travel comes expenses.
Sometime in March or April, they will head back to Corner Brook for Cecil’s appointment with the heart specialist.
They’ve paid out $700 since arriving in St. Anthony on their Medical Transportation Assistance Program share and Eileen estimates they’ll have to pay at least another $800 for potential future travel expenses.
The Northern Pen contacted the Department of Health and Community Services to see if there were any other programs a family like the Dumaresques could avail of.
The department sent a reply that while they could not comment on specific cases there are two programs for medical travel assistance that people can avail of. In addition to the MTAP program, there is also the Income Support Medical Transportation Program (ISMT). The ISMT is for income support clients; subsidized home support clients, subsidized long-term care residents, or non-subsidized personal care home residents; and those who have low income and high medical expenses.
A statement from the department said for the MTAP the program is broken down into two other programs, private vehicle and airfare and accommodations, and it requires a physicians referral.
For the first flight or accomodations claimed in a 12-month period per person on the island portion of the province there is a $400 deductible. The next $100 of eligible expenses after the $400 deductible are fully reimbursed. Eligible expenses from $500 to $3,000 are split 50/50 with MTAP. Once a person excedds the $3,000 threshold, eligible expenses are cost shared with MTAP providing 75 per cent and the person paying the remainder.
For a private vehicle reimbursement is .20 per km once 1,500 kms are used for travel in the 12-month period.
This story has been edited from its original version. The previous version of the story did not contain a reply from the Department of Health and Community Services.