When Burns Lake residents experience a medical emergency that requires them to be medevaced to Vancouver, in some cases this may be a one-way trip only.
According to B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), once a patient has recovered and is ready to return to his/her home community, the patient’s health care team will determine if paramedic care is required during transport back home.
“If paramedic care is required, BCEHS paramedics will care for and transport the patient back home,” explained Alex Dabrowski, communications officer for BCEHS. “If the health care team determines the patient does not require paramedic care to return home, the patient will be responsible for arranging their own return transportation; this is the case throughout B.C.”
According to Burns Lake doctor Loren Caira, this issue sometimes prevent people in rural communities to seek the medical care that they need.
“For some people, that’s preventing them for getting down there [to Vancouver] in the first place, because they don’t have the money to get back and they are fearful of getting back,” said Dr. Caira. “So it affects the quality of medical care.”
In 2016, BCEHS was involved in 33 patient transfers from Burns Lake to Vancouver.
Understanding the cost of travel from Vancouver back to northern communities, Northern Health operates an affordable bus transportation service to and from Vancouver. However, given that a bus trip from Vancouver to Prince George takes almost 12 hours, and that Northern Health does not offer a connection to Burns Lake on the same day, Dr. Caira says taking the bus after medical procedures may not be the best choice.
“A lot of these people have had bypass surgery, and brain surgery, so there’s a risk of blood clot with a bus ride that long,” he said. “It’s draining their minimal reserves anyway after a major illness like that.”
Dr. Caira says people in northern B.C. communities should be aware of all the financial aid options available, including the services offered by Hope Air. This national charity arranges free non-emergency medical flights for low-income Canadians who must travel far from home to access health care.
“It’s a little known benefit that everybody should be aware of because it’s very useful, and I’ve had some families use that,” said Dr. Caira.
To be eligible for Hope Air services, patients must have financial need; have a confirmed health care appointment that is covered by B.C.’s medical services plan; and be medically cleared by their physician to fly on a commercial plane. Hope Air may also cover the travel cost of one escort per patient when doctors determine that an escort is needed.
In 2016, Hope Air arranged over 1500 flights to or from northern B.C. But since Hope Air partners with commercial airlines, the organization does not offer flights out of the Burns Lake airport.
Dr. Caira said northern B.C. residents should also be aware that some hospitals offer cab vouchers to or from an airport upon request.
“They should ask to speak to a social worker before discharge [from a hospital],” he said. “Some hospitals don’t offer it, but all the big hospitals do.”
When seeking medical care out of town., Dr. Caira said a one-night hotel stay is often needed.
“As far as one-night hotel stays that may be needed, Vanderhoof uses a fund from their health care auxiliary to assist patients,” he said. “Other communities [including Burns Lake] do not offer any assistance.”
Patients in B.C. covered under the B.C. medical services plan who require transport between hospitals for additional medical care are not charged for paramedic care or transport. However, there is an $80 fee when an ambulance is called to an emergency and a patient is subsequently transported to a hospital (ground or air).
According to B.C. Emergency Health Services, B.C. pays some of the lowest ambulance fees in the country, and they have remained unchanged since 2007.
According to Hope Air, 28 per cent of patients would cancel or postpone their appointment without a Hope Air flight. For more information about Hope Air, to donate or to make a travel request, visit https://www.hopeair.ca/.