Danica Pettipas has spent the better part of the last three weeks battling COVID-19 and following an extended hospital stay is being billed more than $400 in ambulance fees.
The 30-year-old Dartmouth resident is questioning why the government won’t foot the bill for the ambulance fees, while it’s covering the fees for other COVID-19 patients during the third wave.
“I emailed EHS on May 3 regarding some questions I had,” said Pettipas, who is now recovering from the virus at home. “They finally got back to me this morning, two weeks later, saying, unfortunately, May 1 and on will only be waived for ambulance bills.”
It was April 23 when Pettipas thought she might die at home from COVID-19. Her oxygen levels were dangerously low. She called the Halifax Infirmary COVID-19 unit and was directed to call 911.
Three days later, Pettipas was moved from the COVID-19 unit into a recovery hospital in Halifax but overnight her symptoms worsened and she had to be taken by ambulance back to the COVID-19 unit.
In all, she has received four bills for ambulance trips, three of which she is on the hook to pay because they occurred before May 1.
“I just don’t feel like it’s fair and for people that are trying to recover from COVID, we shouldn’t have to deal with this on top of it,” said Pettipas. “It’s just not fair.”
On May 3, the province announced it would waive ambulance fees for Nova Scotians in COVID-19 emergencies. This came as active case numbers were spiking in the central region and hospitalizations were reaching levels unseen before in the pandemic.
So far six people have died from COVID-19 during the third wave. It’s been reported that at least two people have died at home.
Pettipas believes her ambulance fees from late April should also be covered under the provincial mandate, as she became ill during the onset of the third wave.
Pettipas works as an essential retail worker at a pet food store and makes minimum wage. She’s still unable to go back to work and is now looking for employment insurance to help cover her costs of living.
“I’m still recovering and I still have a long way to go,” said Pettipas. There’s not a lot of money to spare at this time.
She reached out to her MLA, Claudia Chander, for help after she received a letter saying her ambulance fees won’t be covered.
Chender says Nova Scotians shouldn’t have to pay ambulance fees, especially during COVID-19.
“If you are going to ensure that people are able to call an ambulance, and are not penalized for contracting COVID, particularly essential workers, then there should not be a time frame on that,” said Chender.
The NDP has tabled a bill under the Emergency Health Services Act, prohibiting the charging of fees to individuals who are ill and need ambulance services to access medical support.
“This is not an isolated incident and it’s not a COVID-specific situation,” said Chender. “We have people who have approached us and MLAs from across the province, all the time, because people can’t pay their ambulance fees.”
Chender said she’s reached out to the Department of Health and Wellness regarding Pettipas’s case with the hope the government will remove the time limit and not charge any Nova Scotians who called for an ambulance for COVID-19 reasons.
The department declined a request for an interview but a spokesperson said in a statement that “the decision to waive fees was based on a public health concern for COVID-19 positive individuals or presumptive positive individuals not using EHS services due to financial barriers thus causing risk to their health.”
“May 1st was outlined as the start date,” read the statement. “As that is when public health began to see this issue while doing case investigations and as our positive COVID-19 cases climbed.”
There is an ambulance fee assistance program, but Pettipas says this comes down to principle, arguing nobody should be issued an ambulance bill for COVID-19.
“I’m not just fighting for me,” said Pettipas. “I’m fighting for everybody else too.”