I am very proud to be Canadian. One of the things that makes me so proud to be a Canadian is that we look after our citizens, providing them both with basic health care and education. Citizens can receive treatment with their provincial health card anywhere in this country. If they are not near their family doctor or if they don’t have a family doctor, they can go to the hospital or a walk-in medical clinic ……. or so I thought.
This afternoon – that image of what it meant to be Canadian – my Canadian identity – was shattered for me. I walked in to a “walk-in medical clinic” with a valid BC Health Card and was refused treatment.
This particular Ontario walk-in clinic was in the McMaster University Community of Westdale. As a University Community, out-of-province health care cards should not be unusual to them. When I went to University in BC and carried an Ontario Health Card and it was always accepted. My BC Health Card was not accepted today in the Walk-in Clinic in Westdale (a community of Hamilton), Ontario. I must say I was furious, shocked, appalled and disgusted. As far as I am concerned this goes against what it means to be Canadian and coming from a family in health care, what it means to work in health care.
The woman behind the desk simply said “We don’t accept out-of-province health cards here”.
“I beg your pardon”, I said in disbelieve.
“It is clinic policy – we don’t accept out-of-province health care cards here”, said the woman at front desk.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, “You’re a walk-in clinic. You’re here for people that don’t have a local doctor. What do you mean you don’t accept out-of-province health cards? You’re in a university community of all places.” I said flabbergasted.
“It is our policy. I have nothing to do with it. Our manager made it.” She said.
“Well – it’s disgusting,” I said as I left.
I was still fuming when I walked in the door and called the local MP and MPP’s office to lodge a complaint and find out how best to follow up. A physician friend of mine was the most helpful. He informed me that it was against The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to refuse a patient care.
I did call back the clinic to lodge a complaint. After three phone calls, I finally managed to talk to a doctor from the clinic. I was informed that I “wasn’t refused care”, I simply had to pay for it upfront and apply to my Province to be reimbursed.
I said this was news to me, as I was simply told “We don’t accept out-of-province health cards here.” Nothing about paying for care and my applying to have the BC government reimburse me was mentioned.
This neglect aside, it seems to me that there is a larger problem here. I was basically told that they “wouldn’t refuse me health care, I just needed to be able to pay for it upfront”. Not to worry – I wasn’t really paying for it – my Province would eventually reimburse me. Well, not everybody can afford to pay for their basic health care upfront. What then? What do they do? I asked this and was told that they did see “homeless” people (if they had a valid Ontario Health Card, of course).
Do the paramedics ask you to pay for your ambulance ride before they attend to you and save you from death. Thank goodness – no. In the defense of the doctor on the phone, I was told that I must not have appeared to have a life threatening ailment, for if I did they would have, of course, seen me – out-of-province health card or not. An interesting statement coming from a doctor that had not examined me. In my humble experience, life threatening ailments are not always visible. Having had a few over the years, I feel very thankful that I did not walk into this particular walk-in clinic when I had a near rupturing appendix, a serious concussion, the bends …. I am also thankful that this afternoon, I wasn’t walking into the walk-in clinic with terminal cancer (like my grandmother did), meningitis, internal bleeding or a variety of other not so obvious life threatening ailments that the secretary might not have noticed as she turned away my BC health card.
Caring for our sick has always been part of what defined Canadians from Americans to me and made me so proud to say that I am Canadian. Today’s experience suggested that we are not so different from our neighbors to the South ….. or at least some of our health care providers are not.
I will follow through with this issue both with our government and The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, because no Canadian should be required to pay before receiving health care in this country. That is disgusting! And a certain walk-in clinic in Westdale, Ontario should be ashamed that health care to them hinges on timely payment and not having to bother with out-of-province paperwork.