A Yukon woman who is in urgent need of a double lung transplant is relieved the Yukon government has reversed a decision to deny her medical travel subsidy for remaining down in British Columbia.
Tara Easley, 54, lives in Teslin, but she has been staying in Vancouver for the past eight weeks while on the top of the waiting list for her medical procedure.
Tara could be selected for a transplant at any time.
She has been on the subsidy since Aug. 9 and the last subsidy was received on Oct. 3.
She then received an email from her medical travel team, informing her that her subsidy had been cut. Her options were to return to the Yukon and get set up with a medevac transfer plan or remain in B.C. without the daily subsidy, according to email correspondence provided to the News prior to the decision reversal.
As a patient at the Vancouver General Hospital’s pre-transplant assessment clinic, one of her doctors is recommending that Tara remain in Vancouver until the transplant to allow for close monitoring of her condition, which has been significantly worsening, and expedited access to ICU care, if needed.
In a letter of support for medical travel assistance, which was provided to the News, Dr. Jennifer Wilson said she concurred with Tara about feeling unsafe living in her remote community.
“Even if she were to relocate to Whitehorse, should she deteriorate further, she could be too unstable for safe transport by air,” reads Wilson’s letter.
“I think the safest option is for her to remain here in Vancouver.”
Tara said she has been living with lupus, which causes scarring of the lung tissue and, in turn, heart problems. Her health complications have led her to use an oxygen tank to help with breathing. She said she struggles to get from room to room and often requires assistance with dressing and bathing.
Her husband, Scott Easley, has been taking on the role of caregiver and travel escort.
Both Tara and Scott have been unable to work while away from home.
“It wasn’t going to work without some funding,” Tara said. Her health has been “sliding downhill” day by day.
On Oct. 6, the couple was told that their medical travel funding has been reinstated.
The territorial department of Health and Social Services does not comment on specific cases due to privacy.
“The medical travel team is committed to working with Yukoners to support their out of territory medical needs,” reads the department’s statement.
Tara said she has been pleased with her medical travel team despite her disappointment in the policy.
Hopeful for policy change
The Easleys had raised the issue with the opposition parties who, Tara said, went to bat for her.
The Yukon Party said the parties were each doing what they could to bring the issue to the forefront and find a solution.
Stacey Hassard, the MLA for Pelly-Nisutlin, wanted the minister to get involved to resolve the issue. His party said the initial decision had appeared to be a financial decision, as opposed to a medical one.
“In order to receive the care she needs, Tara is required to wait in another jurisdiction and the Yukon should be supporting that,” reads an email statement from the Yukon Party.
NDP Leader Kate White wrote a letter, dated Oct. 3, to Minister of Health and Social Services Tracy-Anne McPhee. White’s letter notes the doctor from Tara’s transplant team was one of two doctors who had made the recommendation for Tara to stay in Vancouver.
“What is particularly frustrating is that since her home in Teslin is 177 kilometres from Whitehorse and its airport, if she does not stay in Vancouver she will have to be housed in Whitehorse. It is hard to understand why her costs would be covered to stay in Whitehorse, but not in Vancouver as her doctor recommended,” reads White’s letter.
“I am writing to urgently appeal the decision to deny her travel expenses and ask you direct your department to support her stay in Vancouver.”
In an Oct. 3 interview, White said the policy that guides the decision-making process needs to be revisited as a whole or on a case-by-case basis.
“I had some extenuating circumstances, and I hope that in future that there is going to be some kind of policy change that allows one-off decisions to be made by staff based on whatever criteria gets put in place,” she said.
Self-advocacy isn’t new to Tara. She has had to advocate for herself since she was a foster child and when she first started dealing with medical issues at age 12.
Tara wants Yukoners to be aware that they can challenge decisions made by people in positions of authority. Her advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation is to “stay calm and investigate.”
“There’s usually a way,” she said.
“It was just too illogical for them to say ‘no’.”
In the hours after learning her medical travel subsidy has been approved, Tara said she didn’t know exactly what to expect of the process but has been told not to stress about it. She is continuing to wait in Vancouver for a lung transplant match.
“We’re just going to keep paying bills and wait for that golden telephone call,” she said.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com