Health minister orders review of funding to lung transplant patients

Nova Scotia’s health minister has ordered a review of the money given to lung transplant patients each month after a CBC News story revealed two people were willing to die because they couldn’t afford to live in Toronto while awaiting treatment.

“I’ve said very clearly, a situation like that is not something that Nova Scotians should be presented with,” Randy Delorey said Wednesday.

The province has given patients $1,500 a month since it established the travel assistance program nearly 10 years ago. 

But while rental prices in Toronto have skyrocketed, that amount has not changed. 

As a result, patients are left with the rest of the bill and risk leaving their family in financial ruin.

“We need to look at the situation,” said Delorey. “We do provide a program. If the program is not adequate, what are the options? What are the relationships? And what are the recommendations we put forward?”

Natalie Jarvis, 42, is from Nova Scotia but is now living in Toronto as she awaits a life-saving lung transplant. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Several patients told CBC that the cheapest accommodation they could find was $2,400 a month. On top of that, they have to pay for food and transportation while there.

The price is so steep, Natalie Jarvis initially chose palliative care because she could not come up with the $10,000 estimated as a starting point for patients to afford their care.

“People are like, ‘We live in Canada, isn’t it free?’ Well, yes, the surgery is free, however, all your other expenses are not,” she said. 

“Ten grand may not sound like a lot to some people, but when you’re living paycheque to paycheque and you need at least $10,000 to get you started to live somewhere else. It’s a lot.”

Jarvis’s physician convinced her to go to Toronto, where she’s now living in what was once a university dorm room. 

Fundraising to live

“I hate having to tell them that right now, when you can barely speak a full sentence, I need you to go out and pound the pavement to try and earn money so you can live,”  Dr. Meredith Chiasson told The Current.

“I tell them that’s the reality of the situation we’re in right now: you are going to have to do fundraising or something else to come up with this money, because right now it’s not coming from our government.”

Jarvis welcomed the news that the Health Department will review the funding. 

Delorey says he doesn’t know how long a review will take. 

He also points out that lung transplant patients face exceptional circumstances, and he believes the travel assistance program is adequate for other circumstances. 

“Ours is fairly generous compared to those that do exist [in other provinces]. But again, it doesn’t mean that there’s not gaps and that’s what I want to look at,” he said.


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