Dying patient slams hospital for charging TV fee
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Television ranked low on the list of things Marvyn Cairns and his family wanted to think about after he was admitted to hospital with complications from terminal cancer.
However, the bill for a service he couldn’t use left him feeling ripped off during what are now his final days.
“It’s a shame. I spent 43 years in the floral industry and loved every minute of it, but then when you get to a public institution… I think it’s just a total rip-off,” the 86-year-old Winnipeg man said, criticizing the provincial government and hospital administration speaking to the Free Press by phone from his hospital bed Monday.
“The average person cannot afford it.”
Cairns was charged a weekly rate of $70 during his brief stay in a St. Boniface Hospital ward before he was moved to a palliative care unit late last week. However, he couldn’t use the TV because of technical difficulties during that time and was eventually refunded the credit card charge.
A private company, HealthHub, runs the in-hospital TV service and is responsible for technical support. The company is headquartered in Ontario with operations offices in Regina and Quebec. It describes itself as Canada’s leading “digital patient engagement platform,” with contracts at more than 200 hospitals across the country.
No one from the company could be reached for comment Monday.
Spokespeople for Shared Health and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, which oversees St. Boniface Hospital, did not provide information about their contracts with HealthHub. When asked about the value and term length of the contract, a spokeswoman suggested filing a freedom of information request for such information.
The cost of TV is another expense, like hospital parking fees, that adds to stress for patients and their families, said Cairns’ cousin, Lynda Lawrence. She was eventually able to secure the refund for Cairns.
“He needed the TV for some sort of entertainment, and couldn’t get it,” she said. “I wasn’t happy about it, because I knew that he was in a room by himself.”
Particularly during COVID-19 outbreaks when hospital patients can’t have visitors, the price of TV service should be reduced, Lawrence said, “because now they don’t have any alternative for company.”
She previously booked a TV for Cairns at Deer Lodge Centre for $49 per month, and was shocked at HealthHub’s $70 per week price tag.
“I know it’s not about me, but during COVID, you hear about these people whose loved ones are dying and they can’t see them,” Lawrence said. “It’s really tough. It’s tough for the patients and it’s tough for the visitors who just want that personal connection.”
Initially, Cairns couldn’t have visitors because of COVID-19 protocols on the ward. Now that he’s in palliative care, he’s receiving visits and the TV is free of charge.
He said he’s getting “phenomenal” care, but being asked to pay for privatized in-hospital amenities is out of reach for most people, even when they most need to distract themselves from their medical conditions. Cairns described the situation as “deplorable.”
“You want to try and have at least a little diversion from your brain, to get away from thinking about it. I’ve accepted my death. But it’s despicable, as far as I’m concerned.”
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, September 13, 2022 6:44 AM CDT: Adds tile photo