Erin Greene is continuing to pay for being attacked by a polar bear three months ago in Churchill -- paying both with her painful recovery, and now out of her pocket.
The 30-year-old from Montreal has been billed $13,159 for the emergency medical services she received after the Nov. 1 attack.
Greene received a bill for $11,944 for the air ambulance alone to cover the cost of transporting her from Churchill to Winnipeg. She already had bills totalling $1,215 for three ambulance rides on the ground to hospitals in Churchill and in Winnipeg.
"I’m a Canadian citizen and in Canada so I didn’t think I was going to be paying anything. Even when people in Churchill were asking me if I’d gotten the bills yet, at first I didn’t think there would be (bills)," Greene said in a telephone interview from Montreal.
"I tried to call people in Quebec and they said that’s just the way that it works and there’s nothing they can do. I called the Churchill hospital and they said I can set up some kind of plan. But if I don’t pay, a collection agent will come to my house."
And that is the way it works.
Quebec’s provincial health plan is covering Greene’s costs of physician care and the treatment she received in the Winnipeg and Churchill hospitals. But she’s on the hook for the rest of it, as would anyone travelling out-of-province.
Gayle Martens, Manitoba Health’s director of fee for service/insured benefits, said the Canada Health Act states provinces and territories are not obligated to cover emergency transportation.
"The Canada Health Act ensures that Canadians’ provincial health insurance goes from coast-to-coast. Your provincial health plan will cover you while you are anywhere else in Canada," she said, but added "there are limits to coverage."
Canadians are covered between provinces for hospital and medical services.
"That means services provided by physicians or if you presented at a hospital. For those services, there are interprovincial agreements within Canada," Martens said.
"When it comes to ambulance costs, those are the responsibility of the patient. Canadians should be aware that, in the event they would need something like the airlift for this Quebec resident, it would run in the thousands of dollars and, if you are outside your province, you would not have coverage for that."
Within Manitoba, Manitoba residents needing air ambulance services would be covered but Manitobans are responsible for ground ambulance costs.
Back in Quebec, Greene is living with her mother as she is unable to work due to severe back pain, for which she is receiving physiotherapy. She has been without an income since Nov. 1 and has not yet received any government benefits.
Her Manitoba friends raised about $1,500 for her at a fundraising social last December which has covered the cost of the ground ambulances.
"I appreciate all the help I’ve been given and I am so grateful," Greene said, noting that she hopes to be well enough to start working soon. She hopes to return to her former job as a yoga instructor since she can’t be on her feet for long due to her back issues and could work limited hours.
"I will have to figure something out once I can get back to work," she said, regarding payment of the hefty bill.
Greene was a seasonal employee at a Churchill restaurant when she was attacked on Nov. 1 as she walked home with friends from a Halloween party.
The bear’s teeth and claws punctured her shoulder and the front of her arm while her scalp was sliced open and needed to be stitched and stapled. She had blood transfusions, plastic surgery on her ear, stitches on her knee and ear and bruising all over her body.
The attack on her only ended because 69-year-old Bill Ayotte ran out of his house and bashed the bear with a shovel allowing Greene to run inside his house and call for help.
The bear then began attacking Ayotte when Ayotte’s neighbour, Didier Foubert-Allen, 18, saved Ayotte by shooting at the bear and, clad in only underwear, drove his truck toward the bear blasting the horn and flashing the lights until it ran off.
Other area residents also tried to get the bear to run off. Ayotte was also hospitalized and is recovering.
"I count my blessings every day, and I am thankful for Bill every day," Greene said. "I definitely think about it every day. If my mind forgets, my body reminds me."
If you want to help, Greene’s friends have set up an online fundraiser with the goal of raising $12,500 by Feb. 26. Go to: www.indiegogo.com/projects/polar-bear-attack