Sheldon Miller is no longer $20,000 in the hole.
In an abrupt about-turn, the Yukon Hospital Corporation has agreed to pay the cost of a medical evacuation that Miller received shortly after moving to the territory four years ago.
“I’m just relieved. It’s like a ton of bricks lifted off my back,” says Miller.
His case goes to show that when callous leaders remain unswayed by appeals to reason or compassion, a thorough public shaming may still prod them into doing the right thing.
Just don’t expect them to admit to any fault.
Miller’s troubles started in June of 2005, shortly after he had moved to Whitehorse from the Northwest Territories, when doctors warned a heart attack may be imminent.
He asked how much the flight would cost. He wasn’t yet a Yukon resident.
Several hospital staff told Miller not to worry about it: the two territories would sort it out.
Instead, bills began to arrive shortly after a cardiologist in Victoria gave Miller a clean bill of health.
Miller insists that, had he known he’d be on the hook for the medevac bill, he never would have agreed to being flown out.
He complained to Yukon’s ombudsman, Tracy-Anne McPhee. After a lengthy investigation, she concluded the territory screwed up and ought to waive his bill.
So McPhee wrote to Premier Dennis Fentie and asked him to intervene.
As a last resort, she tabled a report on the matter in the legislature. The opposition chimed in and called on Fentie to drop Miller’s bills.
With typical bluster, Fentie answered with a whole lot of spin and made it sound like the real victims are Yukon’s civil servants.
Meanwhile, with the ombudsman’s powers exhausted, it was only a matter of time before finance officials sent Miller’s file on to collections.
So the News asked Fentie and Health Minister Glenn Hart to explain the government’s position. If the ombudsman has erred in her report’s conclusions, the territory has never explained in what way.
The News requested interviews for 21 consecutive days. Fentie and Hart never replied.
When button-holed by the News at a recent public event, both men were unable to offer a coherent answer as to why the territory appeared determined to drive Miller’s family into bankruptcy.
Fentie claimed he didn’t have information on the matter. That’s clearly false, because the ombudsman wrote directly to him.
Then he dismissed the ombudsman’s findings as merely being “opinions.”
Hart, meanwhile, tried to hide behind doctor-patient confidentiality.
Then he expressed concern about setting an expensive precedent by forgiving Miller’s debt.
Finally, Hart said staff were looking into the matter.
Shortly afterwards, Miller met with Joe MacGillivray, CEO of the Whitehorse Hospital Corporation, who indicated the hospital would pay for the medevac bill.
But first he wanted Miller to sign a waiver that would absolve the territory of any blame in the matter.
The document also included a gag-order that would prevent Miller from publicly disclosing the terms of his settlement.
After speaking with a lawyer, Miller told MacGillivray he wouldn’t sign the document.
Miller never heard back from the hospital, until a letter arrived by courier last Friday that stated his bill would be dropped.
For the past month and a half, Hart’s office has received calls from Yukoners outraged by the territory’s treatment of Miller.
The public support was overwhelming, said Miller.
“People I’d never met before stopped me, on the street, in the grocery store, and told me, ‘Don’t give up,’” he said.
“I’m just so happy people were backing me. I’d like to thank people for their support.”
The territory appears to have side-stepped any expensive legal precedent by having the hospital corporation, rather than the Health Department, pay Miller’s bill.
The Health Department has always insisted it has no wiggle-room in its handling of medevac bills: uninsured patients must pay. No exceptions.
The hospital’s payment includes no compensation for the stress Miller has been put through by the ordeal. Nor does it include any apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
Miller thinks compensation is only fair. But that fight’s for another day.
Contact John Thompson at