The province announced it would waive ambulance fees for Nova Scotians in COVID-19 emergencies beginning May 1, a decision that was made while Nova Scotia was in the throes of the third wave of the virus with hospitals in the central region reaching levels unseen since the start of the pandemic.
Burrill says nobody should have to pay transportation fees to a hospital during a public health crisis.
“I think everybody knows someone who has driven themselves to the hospital when they should’ve called 9-1-1,” said Burrill. “I have known many people who have not made the call at all because of the spectre of that bill and that financial consideration.”
Burrill says the province should do away with ambulance fees altogether, suggesting if we’ve learned anything during the pandemic it’s that ambulance fees are a barrier to some Nova Scotians seeking medical help and should be waived.
Danica Pettipas received four ambulance bills during her extended battle with COVID-19.
The 30-year-old was back and forth between the Halifax Infirmary hospital and its COVID-unit and a recovery hotel on multiple occasions between late April and early May.
Pettipas is now recovering at her Dartmouth apartment but is stuck with more than $400 in ambulance bills.
The province waived one bill, an ambulance transfer back to hospital which occurred after May 1, but she’s fighting to have all her other bills waived.
“You know it wasn’t my choice to call 9-1-1, I was instructed by the hospital to call 9-1-1 each of those times,” said Pettipas, who is still recovering from side effects from the virus.
Pettipas is a front-line essential worker at a pet food store, making minimum wage — she’s still not sure how she contracted COVID-19 but believes it was through work.
She wrote to Premier Iain Rankin, Doctor Robert Strang and her own MLA Claudie Chender for Dartmouth-South, asking all ambulance fees be waived for patients during the third wave, not just for ambulance transfers after May 1.
“The third wave started in April it didn’t just start in May,” said Pettipas. “This to me is unacceptable and frustrating to see charges for people who were sick early on in the third wave.”
Pettipas received an email response on behalf of the premier’s office on Wednesday morning by Barry Burke, the executive director of client services and contract administration with the province.
Burke wrote that on May 1, 2021, the Minister of Health and Wellness was granted, under the Emergency Management Act, the legal authority to waive ambulance invoices for those COVID-19 positive (or presumptive) patients receiving medically essential ambulance transportation effective May 1.
However, Burke reiterated that the province would not waive ambulance fees for trips prior to that date as they “are not covered by the policy change and regrettably your claims not eligible to be waived.”
Burrill says he’s disappointed by the premier’s office response and said they lacked compassion that should be shown to someone in Pettipas circumstance and believes all ambulances fees should be waived for COVID patients regardless of when they got sick.
“It’s with the premier that we would be looking for this kind of intelligent, fluid, compassionate interpretation of the rule,” said Burrill. “So it’s very disappointing to think that the premier and premier’s office has replied to Ms. Pettipas with this inflexible, mechanical and foolish approach.”
Global News reached out to the premier’s office for an interview but that request was denied and referred to the province’s Department of Health and Wellness.
A separate interview request for health minister Zach Churchill was also denied and a statement was issued by a representative in the department, who said they recognize that not everyone can afford ambulance fees and that’s why the province has an Ambulance Fee Assistance program.
For Pettipas, she says she might apply to the free assistance program to help with her ambulance fees but said it comes down to principle, “nobody should need to pay an ambulance bill during a COVID-19 emergency,” she said.