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MEDICAL TRAVEL: Travel costs can cause significant worries for Nova Scotian families with sick children

Skyla Bennett, centre, smiles wide after getting a good report from her annual checkup at the Tumour Clinic at the IWK Hospital in Halifax. On the left is her surgeon, Dr. Simon Walling, and his attending nurse is on the right.
Skyla Bennett, centre, smiles wide after getting a good report from her annual checkup at the Tumour Clinic at the IWK Hospital in Halifax. On the left is her surgeon, Dr. Simon Walling, and his attending nurse is on the right. - Submitted

Medical journey

SYDNEY, N.S. — When Tammy Bennett was told her doctors had found a tumour on her youngest daughter's brain, she was overcome with worry. 
Skyla Bennett wasn't even two when they found the tumour on the left side of her brain, affecting nerves used for facial expressions, hearing and swallowing. Immediately, Bennett knew she would have to spend extended periods of time in Halifax at the IWK Hospital. 
"You are scared because of all the uncertainty. First and foremost, scared about what Skyla had to face and then on top of that scared about how I was going to pay for our bills. Was I going to lose my home, how was I going to take care of all my family with no income?" she told the Cape Breton Post. 
"I had panic attacks and anxiety. It was a complete mix of emotion - fear, sadness, anger. A mother should not have to worry about losing her home and taking care of her family when her child is facing a life-threatening illness." 

"A mother should not have to worry about losing her home and taking care of her family when her child is facing a life-threatening illness." Tammy Bennett


This was just the start of Skyla's medical journey and Bennett had to quit her job as an insurance broker to take care of her. 
Now 9, Skyla's first tumour was successfully removed when she was two. When she was five doctors found another tumour on a spot of her brain where surgery can't be done because of the risk.
It is in the hippocampus, a spot deep in the centre of the brain that deals with memory. Doctors can't even do a biopsy because of the risks and Skyla and her mom have to make trips every six months to a year for checkups. 
Skyla is Indigenous and Bennett is grateful for the support she gets from the Membertou band council for travel and accommodations, which often covers the whole trip.
"I truly do not know where we would be without them," said Bennett, who now runs an at-home daycare. 

Skyla Bennett, 9, gives two thumbs up after getting positive results from her annual checkup at the Tumour Clinic at the IWK Hospital in Halifax. She has been getting the checkups since tumours were removed from her brain when she was two and three.
Skyla Bennett, 9, gives two thumbs up after getting positive results from her annual checkup at the Tumour Clinic at the IWK Hospital in Halifax. She has been getting the checkups since tumours were removed from her brain when she was two and three.


According to the Department of Health and Wellness, MSI does provide some coverage for medical appointments and treatments that can't be done in the patient's home town. Generally, this includes up to $1,000 for round trip travel for patients, up to $1,000 for round trip travel for an approved escort and up to $125 per day for accommodations with a cap at $1,500 per month. For ground travel, MSI (Medical Services Insurance) has offered some patients, like Tamara Corbett, 20 cents per liter travelled. 
More than 300 travel and accommodation requests were reimbursed by the province last fiscal year; a total of $414,000 paid out by the department. 
However, patients requesting this financial support from the department must have a referral from a specialist in Nova Scotia and pre-approval from a MSI medical consultant. 
Each trip for Bennett and her daughter costs between $100-$150 for transportation (mainly gas), $75 per day for food, $15 per day for tolls and parking and $125 per night for accommodations. 
When Skyla was first diagnosed, they would be up as often as every two weeks, staying for up to a week at a time. Now it has dropped to once or twice a year for two to three days, unless delayed by weather.
"My mother had to organize a benefit dance when Skyla was first diagnosed to help cover things like my mortgage, oil, groceries," said Bennett, who raised her three kids on her own with little support. People in Membertou also did fundraising like a tug-of-war competition, toll booths and a donation was made by Membertou Public Works, where Skyla's dad, Warren LaPorte, works. 

On top of expenses, Bennett loses income because she has to close her at-home daycare or have someone else run it while she is away. Their last trip to Halifax meant an $800 loss of income. 
"Even with the help from the Membertou band, it is hard to lose $800," she said. 
Read the April 11 edition of the Cape Breton Post for more from this Special Report.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a Cape Breton Post special report taking a closer look at Nova Scotia’s health-care system and the experience of a patient with cancer. 

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nicole.sullivan@cbpost.com 

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