Northern Manitoban nearly stranded after being airlifted to Winnipeg for surgery

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WINNIPEG – A man from Flin Flon calls on the province to close the health care gap in northern Manitoba after emergency surgery left him nearly stranded in Winnipeg.

Roger Siemens Sr. was flown to Winnipeg last Sunday for an emergency appendectomy.

Earlier today, Siemens went to Flin Flon’s emergency room after suffering severe stomach cramps, but doctors determined he needed a CT scan, so an ambulance took him from emergency at The Pas.

After the CT scan, doctors concluded Siemens needed an emergency appendectomy, but The Pas’s surgeon was on vacation.

Siemens flew to Winnipeg on an emergency flight and underwent successful surgery at St Boniface Hospital on Sunday evening.

St-Boniface Hospital released him Monday morning, but there was a major problem – Siemens had no way to return to Flin Flon.

“I went with the shirt on my back and very little else,” Siemens told CTV News Wednesday.

Siemens said St. Boniface staff contacted the Northern Patient Transport Program (NPTP) to arrange a flight to Flin Flon.

According to the Northern Health Region website, the NPTP is a provincial program of Manitoba Health. The NPTP is managed by Northern Health and subsidizes the travel costs of residents of northern Manitoba to get to their medical appointments.

NPTP covers partial costs of services not available in communities, including emergency and elective medical transportation. The NPTP, based on a physician’s recommendation, determines which mode of transportation – air or land – is used.

Siemens said the NPTP told staff at St. Boniface that they would reserve a seat for them with regional airline Calm Air. However, the first available flight to Flin Flon was Wednesday morning, which means Siemens would have to stay in Winnipeg for two nights.

“I don’t have money for a hotel,” Siemens explained. “I don’t have people in town that I can stay with for two days or a way to get to the airport.”

He alleged that the NPTP said they would not provide accommodation – only a flight back to Flin Flon, so he suggested making arrangements for a friend of Flin Flon to travel to Winnipeg for retrieve it.

“So I’m not sitting [in Winnipeg] for two days.”

He said the NPTP offered $ 153 to cover gasoline and other expenses. He said that’s only half of what they’re budgeting for a round trip.

“But I would have to bring someone from Flin Flon to Winnipeg and vice versa,” said Siemens. “It didn’t make sense to me.”

After speaking with an NPTP supervisor, Siemens was told he was not eligible for air travel, so Wednesday’s flight was no longer available to him. He says the NPTP offered him two options: the $ 153 for the car ride or $ 130 for a bus ticket on Tuesday morning.

“I always have the problem: where should I go in the hospital Monday morning and where should I spend the night? Says Siemens. “And who pays for my meals and transport?” I don’t have that kind of money.

A friend of Siemens who was in Winnipeg at the time heard about the situation. Siemens said they reorganized their work schedule and drove him home on Monday.

“I was lucky,” Siemens said. “But if that hadn’t happened, the cost of the ride home would have been out of my pocket.”

Siemens has said it wants Northern Health to change NPTP policies and provide more clarity to patients, especially in an emergency.

“I want to know what is covered,” he said. “In an emergency, they have to come up with something to cover this kind of situation.”

He said when patients are medically evacuated to Winnipeg on their own, there is no funding for accommodation, meals or transportation into town.

However, Siemens said its experience illustrates a deeper problem – a lack of available services in northern Manitoba. He said if the gaps in Manitoba’s health care system were properly addressed, a program like Northern Patient Transport would not be necessary.

“We’re supposed to have universal health care, so why are we paying more in the North for the health care we deserve? ” he said. “The gaps are way too big and they’re getting bigger.”

Flin Flon MP Tom Lindsey said the Siemens experience was not the first he had heard of.

“This is the number one problem I have dealt with since being elected,” Lindsay said. “Some people can afford to book a flight and get reimbursed by Northern Patient Transportation, but others have stood in a parking lot.”

Lindsey said the province must revise transportation policies in the wake of an emergency – and cover related costs.

“In Winnipeg, it’s a $ 20 cab ride home,” Lindsey said. “But getting a patient out of Flin Flon is hundreds of dollars.

Siemens hopes their story will encourage other residents of northern Manitoba to speak up.

“We have to fix this problem,” Siemens said. “Something has to be done.”

Siemens has not filed a formal complaint with Northern Health.

A spokesperson for the Northern Health Region told CTV News they could not comment on specific cases.


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