Migrant worker battling cancer finally gets medical card in Nova Scotia

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia migrant worker with cancer granted provincial health-care coverage'
Nova Scotia migrant worker with cancer granted provincial health-care coverage
WATCH: A Nova Scotia migrant worker battling cancer has now been granted provincial health coverage. Kerian Burnett spent months fighting to stay in Canada in hopes of receiving treatment for cervical cancer. As Zack Power reports, she is hoping to use her message to create change in health-care policy – Mar 18, 2024

To say the last two years have been difficult for Kerian Burnett would be an understatement. The migrant from Jamaica came to Nova Scotia to work on a farm, which provided her with health insurance in case of a medical emergency.

However, after a 2022 cancer diagnosis, she was fired from her job, leaving her without medical coverage. She described going to the pharmacy, pleading for much-needed cancer care drugs, but was turned away by pharmacists without health care coverage.

She was also denied coverage at some Nova Scotia hospitals.

The years and months that followed were ones of emotional stress and physical pain. In August 2023, she learned she was a successful applicant for the Interim Federal Health Program, which provided her with much-needed health care coverage for her cancer treatments.

Speaking with Global News, she recalled the moment she received the card. Checking the mail, like any other day, she found a letter marked “MSI.” After feeling the outside of the envelope, she knew then and there that she had a medical card.

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On Monday, standing outside the legislature, Burnett proudly displayed her Nova Scotia Medical Services Insurance (MSI) card.

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“I saw there was a letter there, and it was MSI and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is the card,'” she said.

“I ripped the envelope apart and there was the card.”

Life on chemotherapy has been challenging. Burnett has been living with a colostomy bag and has numbness in her legs. Day-to-day activities have been difficult, but she’s hoping to find her way back to work slowly.

In Nova Scotia, the criteria for an MSI card depend on the length of your stay in the province and your citizenship in Canada.

MSI card requirements (per the provincial government):

  • a Canadian Citizen or “Permanent Resident” (Landed Immigrant);
  • a resident who makes his/her permanent home in Nova Scotia;
  • present in the province 183 days every calendar year; and
  • registered with MSI.

According to No One is Illegal Nova Scotia, Burnett is one of many workers who are facing challenges in getting health care coverage in the province.

“Health coverage is the hands of their employer,” said Stacey Gomez, with No One is Illegal.

“Dozens of organizations in the province have been advocating to provide MSI coverage upon arrival for all migrant workers.”

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According to Gomez, she requested a meeting with Health Minister Michelle Thompson, which was denied.

The minister said she had no requests to speak about migrants getting MSI early in the last 18 months, shortly after doubling down her position moments earlier.

“We ask that people who travel here from outside of Nova Scotia come with insurance,” she told Global News, speaking from the legislature foyer.

“That’s typical for folks who travel or work on shorter-term contracts. That is the reason we have it. The federal program asks that people show that they have private insurance.”

For Burnett, she hopes to return to work in the future but is focused on recovery.

She’s hoping to see meaningful changes in the Nova Scotia legislation.

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