Cancelled health care appointment leaves trail of unanswered questions for St. Stephen woman

ST. STEPHEN – Throughout the pandemic, St. Stephen local Barb Rideout, has done everything the provincial and federal government has asked of her and her family. As each became eligible, they have all been vaccinated; even her eight-year-old has had her first dose. Rideout has routinely adhered to Public Health protocols; washing her hands, wearing a mask, always maintaining physical distancing.

She’s even watched the many provincial updates to ensure she was as informed as she could be regarding COVID-19 in New Brunswick.

“The province is telling us all this stuff, and I did what I was told,” said Rideout.

Rideout takes her physical health seriously. She is an avid jogger, and frequently goes to the gym. And when the border finally opened, Rideout also resumed attending dance classes in Calais, Maine.

“I want to be the best; the healthiest I can be for my kids,” said Rideout.

And part of that regime for the mom of two girls is regularly having PAP tests.

“Cervical cancer runs in my family,” said Rideout.

Rideout went through a PAP screen earlier this fall, and had follow-up appointment at the Charlotte County Hospital last week; until the appointment was abruptly cancelled.

The reason Rideout was given? She’d been to Calais.

“I could have lied,” said Rideout, “but I told the truth.”

When Rideout spoke with nurses from Horizon Health a week prior to her appointment, she was told based on having been to Calais, she would have to be treated “like you have COVID”, and to be prepared for additional protocols for her appointment. She was told she would have to be the last appointment of the day, so the room could be completely sterilized on her departure. She would have to remain on the ground floor of the facility to avoid moving through the building. She would have to don additional personal protective equipment (PPE). Rideout agreed to all of the increased measures.

Then, just prior to the appointment, Rideout received another call from Horizon; due to her travel to Calais, her appointment was being cancelled, based on what she was informed was current Horizon policy.

Rideout was given the opportunity to reschedule with the caveats she not return to Calais, and self-isolate for 14 days prior to her appointment because she had been across the border.

Rideout refused.

“I’m not stopping my dance classes,” she said. “That’s for my physical and mental health.

“I’ve done everything they’ve asked me to do, and now they tell me ‘no’? It doesn’t seem to be for the benefit of my health and safety.

“I’m frustrated. I’m upset,” she added.

Rideout also questioned why an emphasis has in recent years been put on the importance of women’s health, when something as important as a test for cervical cancer can be so easily cancelled. “Where’s the women’s health help when we’re so easily told ‘no’?” she said.

Rideout said if going to Calais is a cause for cancellation of a health care appointment, then that policy needs to be made clear.

For Horizon’s part, while it would not comment on Rideout’s specific case, Horizon Senior Communication Advisor Kris McDavid did say “I believe this is being followed-up on”.

McDavid also provided the Courier with an email statement from VP Quality and Patient-Centered Care for Horizon, Margaret Melanson; but the statement merely echoes information on the Horizon website.

“All patients are actively screened prior to entering any of our facilities,” says the statement.

“Patients arriving to the hospital will be asked questions related to their travel history, whether they are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, the purpose of their visit and whether they have had contact with someone who has or is suspected of having COVID-19.

“Answering yes to these questions may result in the use of enhanced Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures during their time in hospital. This may include the use of enhanced Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during patient interactions and enhanced cleaning, however we make every effort to accommodate all patients. In rare circumstances where accommodations cannot be made, non-urgent appointments may be rescheduled to the next closest availability.

“We do regret any inconvenience or anxiety this may cause.”

What cannot be found on the Horizon website is information detailing the possibility a trip out of the Atlantic provinces could result in a cancelled health care appointment.

Rideout pointed out her trip to Calais would be no different than a trip to a major retailer in Saint John or Fredericton, and it’s no different than going to a hockey tournament.

She mused if she would be asked if she’d been to Calais prior to being taken to an emergency room if she was in a car accident. “Would I be denied access to health care then?”

And it’s here Rideout struggles to make sense of what she’s been told is a Horizon policy.

“They need to look at the way they’re doing things,” said Rideout. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Rideout admits this has been her “breaking point”. “We’re bombarded with COVID,” she said.

“My kids have really missed two years of their lives. They can’t just keep shutting things.

“I’m done putting my life on hold. I’m up to my ears with COVID.”

Rideout also made several calls to members of the provincial government on the heels of having her appointment cancelled.

“I called Dorothy Shephard’s (provincial minister of health) office,” she said. “They could not answer any of my questions.

“They told me to call the COVID hotline; there, they were shocked at what had happened, but also didn’t have an answer for me.”

Rideout called the regional patient advocate twice, but didn’t receive a reply.

She also reached out to Saint Croix MLA, Kathy Bockus but Rideout’s husband Jason confirmed while Bockus has reached out, they had not yet connected at press time.

The Courier also reached out to Shephard and Bockus’ offices, but did not receive a reply. The Courier also reached out to Public Health, but again, did not receive a reply.

“The federal government policy is if a Canadian requires immediate or urgent medical attention, they get it, even in quarantine,” said NB Southwest MP, John Williamson in an email to the Courier. “I agree with this policy.”