If you have Epilepsy and have lost your health card, your mind clouded due to multiple seizures, how difficult could it be to obtain a new health card?
The journey below follows an experience I had last week when helping a woman struggling with Epilepsy.
Three weeks ago, I met her in my office where we offer support to those living with this neurological condition. She'd suffered with seizures her entire life. The disease cost her her children, who are now in the care of a grandparent. She, herself, became 'lost' as the seizures took control of her life. Life meant 'drifting' (for more than five years) from "neighbourhood to neighbourhood", seeking support. Medication meant visiting emergency rooms where physicians administered limited amounts of medication, but no safety plan to help this person long term. More seizures meant more hospital visits, and then it happened – no medication...
Life without a health card is really quite difficult – worse when you live with a disability. You can't get medical care for the disease that is ruining your life.
We offered our assistance; a short term medication plan was a priority, then on to a health card and a path of appropriate health care treatment. What followed was a journey so shocking to me that I'm not sure how we expect vulnerable individuals to access services they are entitled to: Access to medication, access to a physician, access to improved quality of life.
We had predetermined with Service Ontario representatives the required documents to obtain a temporary health card, and helped this woman to gather them. To my shock, when we presented our information we were informed that none of our documents were acceptable and access to a health card was denied.
You might ask how this could happen when we had been told in advance what forms and documents were required. We were abruptly told to seek support at an alternate government agency. Disappointed, we traveled to the next government agency, only to be told that they could not help us either. We then went to the woman's bank to see if they could assist us with proof of identity – that's where we learned that the Service Ontario office could have issued her a 'photo card', available for people who do not have a driver's licence.
So, off to Service Ontario's office for a second visit. When we asked about the photo card, we were told that, yes, they did provide this service, and asked to please hand over our health card... If you are following this, yes, they requested a health card, because "you cannot have a photo card without a health card" – as it stood, we had neither.
I explained that we were in an emergency situation; this woman was starting to have seizures again and she needed treatment by a physician and medications, and that a health card was critical to that process. I was informed that anyone can go to a doctor, but you have to pay for it. At this point, I thought I was speaking to a representative of the Ontario Government, but as it turns out, this is not so...
I asked how a vulnerable person existing on limited financial resources, living in a fog of seizures, could possibility pay for such a service; it was not the concern of the representative, she closed her files and looked to the next person in line. Where is the empathy for humanity?
In the end with our persistence, 4-5 hours of waiting, and speaking with supervisors, we were able to obtain a temporary health card. The woman quickly got to see a family physician and will be seeing a neurologist to get her condition and her life back on track.
But the journey does not end there. After my experience assisting this woman, I discovered Service Ontario is managed through private companies.
I was more than surprised – how this can be? I watched Service Ontario agents ignore this very vulnerable person. How could something as vital as the primary key to health care in Ontario be managed by franchise owners? It all began to make sense; the office atmosphere was unprofessional, dirty, and very little empathy expressed towards vulnerable people.
Has our health care system really become a 'fast food' model? At the very least, I know that when I order "fries with that", they will be the same whether in Oshawa or Ottawa. I urge you to talk to your MPP. What degree of screening is in place for 'franchises owners' of Service Ontario, what is the measure for success, are there standards of care or training, is there a degree of sensitivity training, and to whom are these owners accountable? How is our privacy protected?
My post really is to make you aware. As our health care services become further downloaded, guard your health cards and any important identification documents carefully. The next time you are required to renew your driver's licence or replace your expired health card, it may be 'with fries'.
- Dianne McKenzie