$150 transfer costs for extended care unfair burden on mostly rural Islanders
© Guardian photo
Island EMS ambulance
It was a welcome Christmas gift for ill Islanders when Health Minister Doug Currie announced last week that patients transferring from one hospital to another are no longer charged an $150 ambulance fee.
It took a number of months before Mr. Currie had an epiphany on the issue but it was better late than never. Ever-spiraling health-care costs likely had a great deal to do with holding off on the fee elimination until the new cost-efficient transfer ambulance was ready to roll.
The health minister said patients shouldn’t be burdened with the cost of the ambulance while reiterating that government’s priority is getting sick Islanders placed into a hospital bed as quickly as possible.
Last week’s announcement basically clarifies who pays when individuals are transferred to other facilities. The only confusion when government changed its own policy last spring was among officials within Health P.E.I. and the department. Patients and their families always viewed this as an unfair fee.
It was government which changed the way rural hospitals are utilized across the province. Patients treated at acute-care hospitals who need additional recovery time in hospital are now transferred by ambulance to one of the smaller rural hospitals for their extended care.
Since the transfers were not being made at the request of the patients but as a result of a change in government policy, why would the province even consider applying the $150 fee onto the patient? It never made sense except perhaps that the government was trying to save health dollars and wondered how long it dared apply the ambulance fees.
It was also interesting to see the timing of the announcement came just several days after the Opposition renewed its call for Mr. Currie to clarify Health P.E.I.’s policy on ambulance fees. The minister said last June that he was going to review the ambulance fee policy and that it would be completed by September. Opposition critic Colin LaVie said he expected it to be tabled in the fall session of the legislature but went public earlier last week when he still hadn’t seen the report.
Currie defended the time it took to clarify the ambulance fees issue by pointing out P.E.I.’s health system is currently facing a large number of pressures. The change in the use of rural hospitals was made to free up more beds in acute care facilities. It was bound to increase ambulance transfers so that should not have come as a surprise and should have been dealt with at the time.
Despite the increase in transfers, the department does not expect to see a negative impact on its budget. That makes it all the more inexcusable why it took this long to eliminate the fees. The cost savings will come because the new transfer ambulance, which will start operations in January, can move up to four patients at a time. It will also free up other ambulances to respond to emergencies.
Health P.E.I.’s focus has been to protect acute care beds at the QEH and the PCH for our most sick Islanders. That is fine, but doesn’t help rural Islanders who have been paying the ambulance transfer fees for many months.
Reducing wait times for acute care beds and improving access to care by ensuring every hospital and health facility is being used to the best of its potential are lofty and laudable goals. And to finally acknowledge in late December that patients shouldn’t be burdened with the cost of ambulance transfer fees is a long overdue relief for rural Islanders.