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Ontario man stranded in Costa Rica due to lack of hospital beds at home

Click to play video: 'No room at the hospital: Ontario man waits in Costa Rica'
No room at the hospital: Ontario man waits in Costa Rica
WATCH: The daughter of a Calabogie, Ont. man on a ventilator in a Costa Rica hospital says she’s trying to bring her father home. But as Sean O’Shea reports, so far there is no room at an Ontario hospital for him – Apr 12, 2024

A Canadian man who suffered a medical emergency in Costa Rica is stuck waiting in a hospital after his family was told no hospitals in Ontario are able to admit him due to a lack of available beds.

Grant Rice of Calabogie, Ont., located west of Ottawa, was spending his winter in Costa Rica, with a return flight back to Canada booked for May 1. However, the 69-year old’s holiday came to a halt earlier this month when his health took a turn.

Emma, Rice’s daughter, told Global News her father started to develop numbness in his tongue, which quickly spread throughout his face, leading to difficulty swallowing and eventually compromising his ability to breathe effectively.

She said she flew out to Costa Rica on April 9th as soon she heard her dad wasn’t doing well. Emma told Global News that upon her arrival, she found the quality of care her father was receiving wasn’t good.

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“He was still in his street clothes… he had an oxygen line in his nose, but he was not good. I found him at the edge of the bed unable to breathe,” Emma said.

However, she explained that once she arrived, things started to pick up and get better.

“I got him into a bed. He got a lot more care, he got placed on a ventilator, was able to breathe and all his stats came back up and he got a diagnosis.”

Emma said her father was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, sometimes known as GBS, which is a rare but serious autoimmune disorder.

“It basically causes nerve paralysis. Quite often it starts in the limbs, but with him, it started in his head.”

Click to play video: 'Union calling for an additional 107 beds and 493 staff over four years to meet patient demands at PRHC'
Union calling for an additional 107 beds and 493 staff over four years to meet patient demands at PRHC

Rice has spent the last few days in a hospital in San Jose with his daughter, awaiting their return to Canada. Despite having his insurance ready and a plane available, the unavailability of beds in Ontario has forced them to wait in the unfamiliar country.

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“We’re stuck in a foreign country where we don’t speak the language, all because our healthcare system is unable to take him or unwilling to take him,” Emma said.

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She explained that initially, the search for a hospital bed begins within his catchment area, which is the Renfrew County area. However, since she resides in the Greater Toronto Area, if they can’t find a bed nearby, the search parameters expand to include surrounding regions.

Emma said that a request was made to secure her father a bed on Wednesday, April 10th. However, as of Friday morning, she was informed that there were still no updates on the situation.

Photo provided by the family

“I asked them if they could please call and expand the search area. But so far, I’ve had no luck. They’ve had no luck. They did tell me too that this is always the biggest obstacle that’s always a struggle. They’re finding people are stranded because they can’t get beds in Ontario for them,” she said.

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She explained that she has been in contact with both her and her father’s local MPPs, the consulate, doctors and a representative from the Renfrew Hospital.

“It seems that it is the case of being able to find a doctor who is willing to admit him. And that is the challenge… finding the doctor who’s willing to take him in a bed that’s free for him, especially with the level of care that he requires.”

Now, the pair must wait to see what happens next. However, neither of them speaks Spanish and Emma has never been to Costa Rica before. As she advocates for her father, she described the experience as overwhelming, saying, “it’s been a lot.”

“I haven’t really left his bedside and I don’t really feel like I can,” she said, adding that even finding food or time to sleep has been an issue.

As for returning to Canada, she said she believes she’ll be able to return on her father’s medical evacuation flight.

“But I’m certainly not able to leave until he does because he cannot be here alone,” she added.

Grant Rice. Photo provided by the family

Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for the Minister of Health, said in a statement to Global News that “Ontario always has available critical care beds to care for those most critically injured.”

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“If a patient has medical travel insurance and requires a critical care bed, the insurance company would contact CritiCall Ontario. Insurance companies are responsible for arranging and paying for patient transport back to Ontario,” send Jensen.

CritiCall Ontario is 24/7 emergency consultation and referral service for hospital-based physicians in the province caring for urgent or emergent patients who require care beyond the hospital’s resources, explained Jensen, adding that if a patient requires critical care, CritiCall would always facilitate care and they would not tell the insurance or patient “no”.

As the pair waits for their answers, Emma shared her frustrations of not being able to get her father into a hospital bed in Ontario.

“The fact that we can’t get him back and get him the care he needs is terrifying, especially because not a barrier of insurance. It’s not a barrier of, you know, care on this end or anything like that. It’s simply that that our country, where we have health care, that we pay for with our taxes, is unwilling or unable to take him back.”

“I don’t know what would have happened had I not come here and advocated for him. I mean, if this is how hard it is with me here, I can’t imagine what someone would deal with who doesn’t have the support of a family member,” she said.

— with files from Sean O’Shea. 

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