Danica Pettipas, a Cole Harbour resident who was among the Nova Scotians hospitalized with COVID-19 in the third wave, says the cost of ambulance fees from her eight-day stay in hospital with the virus has led to significant stress. Pettipas took four ambulance rides over the course of her illness, as directed by doctors at the QEII Hospital where she was admitted.
In May, around the time two people with COVID died in their homes, the provincial government brought in a program to waive ambulance fees for people with symptoms of the disease. “Do not struggle at home because you’re worried about the cost, get to the hospital,” said then-premier Iain Rankin.
That program paid for two of Pettipas’ ambulance trips, but she says the other two were not covered: one on April 24, just before the launch of the fee-waiving program, and another trip that moved Pettipas from a Halifax hotel, where she was self-isolating after her discharge, back to the hospital when her condition deteriorated. This trip happened in May, Pettipas says.
“I wasn't going to call my dad who’s negative for COVID to give me a ride when I’m positive. And this is what the QEII told me to do, was to call 911,” Pettipas said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
The two ambulance ride fees came to $293.10, which Pettipas paid recently after the bills were sent to collections. Pettipas said she had hoped to avoid paying the fees, but worried about protecting her credit. She says the situation has been difficult since she began fighting to waive these fees through letters to chief medical officer of health Robert Strang, former-premier Rankin and the health department in May. Pettipas says she is one of several people she knows of who have fallen through the cracks and were not covered by the previous government's policy.
Pettipas’ COVID infection is among the many in Nova Scotia where the source of exposure could not be identified. She says that’s one of the risks of working in a front-facing job serving the public. “I was a worker at a pet store in Cole Harbour, now the Walmart. I deal with a couple thousand people a day now,” she said.
NDP leader Gary Burrill joined Pettipas at Province House to call attention to the fees. “Survivors of COVID-19 should not have debt collectors calling them to pay ambulance bills that the government said would be covered,” Burrill said. “Tim Houston has an opportunity to overturn the mistake the previous Liberal government made.”
Health minister Michelle Thompson, reached by the phone following Tuesday’s Question Period in the legislature, said she’s looking into Pettipas’ particular case. Pettipas’ situation had not been brought to her attention before today, she said.
“We’ll have some discussions afterward in terms of what we can do to support her,” Thompson said. The minister would not say if this support will look like a refund of the fees.
$2.5 million for nurses in long-term care
Making a stride towards the Progressive Conservative campaign promise of increasing access to nurses in long-term care homes, the province announced that $2.5 million will be spent on hiring at least 13 nurse practitioners. The NPs will work with existing facility teams and doctors, diagnosing and treating illnesses.
It’s not clear how quickly the province will be able to hire these 13 more more medical professionals, which could pose a challenge given the nurses shortage in Nova Scotia.
When asked about a hiring timeline, the province’s long-term care department spokesperson said it will take some time. “We are just at the beginning of the recruitment process for these nurse practitioner positions, and it won’t happen overnight,” Kristen Lipscombe said in an email.
“It will take time to post positions, review applications, interview candidates and have people start their new positions. We will provide more information when updates are available,” Lipscombe said.
Barbara Adams, Nova Scotia’s recently elected minister of seniors and long-term care, said in a statement, “this is only the first step of hiring we need to do to fix health care for seniors and provide more care for thousands of people."
These new hires, when in place, are expected to address some pressures in long-term care and the broader health system by reducing ambulance transfers, emergency room visits and long-term care admission delays.