Ontario to provide life-saving health care to children affected by U.S. travel ban

Ontario's minister of health and long-term care Eric Hoskins has announced the province will work to provide life-saving care to children whose surgeries have been cancelled in the United States as a result of recent travel restrictions.

Health minister says province will take on surgeries for critically ill children barred from entering the U.S.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins says Canada has an obligation to help critically ill children who are being turned away at the U.S. border. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

Ontario's minister of health and long-term care says the province will offer to provide life-saving care to children whose surgeries have been cancelled in the United States as a result of recent travel restrictions.

"Given that this is a critical time for these ill children, our ministry and Ontario's specialized children's hospitals, which provide best-in-the-world care, feel the responsibility to act quickly," Eric Hoskins said Friday.

H​oskins said it has come to the government's attention that some critically ill children are being turned away at the U.S. border solely because of where they were born and that Canada has an obligation to respond.

U.S. President Donald Trump is shown signing an executive order to impose tighter vetting of travellers entering the United States. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order last Friday which temporarily bans entry to the U.S. for people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

The order also suspends the U.S. refugee program for at least four months and indefinitely bars all Syrian refugees from entering the country.

The White House said it is taking the measures in order to review and enhance security measures aimed at making sure violent extremists can't gain entry into the country.

A "small number of children" had surgeries scheduled at highly specialized pediatric hospitals in the U.S., Hoskins said, which have reached out to their Canadian counterparts for help.

"It speaks to the level of talent that exists … that these individuals — the medical specialists and surgeons in the United States — when they realize that these children and infants weren't able to receive the care that they needed in the United States, they immediately looked to Canada … for help," he told reporters Friday.

The Hospital for Sick Children has an active international patient program that considers humanitarian cases on a case-by-case basis, a spokesperson says. (CBC)

Ministry staff are working with federal partners and hospitals, primarily Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, to be able to provide the life-saving care the children need.

Hospitals will now review cases referred to them from U.S. health facilities to determine how to go forward.

Matet Nebres, a spokesperson for SickKids, says the hospital has an active international patient program that considers humanitarian cases on a case-by-case basis. She said SickKids is not making commitments at this time, as evaluations are ongoing.

"The assessment of any clinical case that SickKids undertakes is thoughtful and comprehensive," Nebres told CBC Toronto. "This process involves a multi-disciplinary team who reviews the clinical needs of the child, health status of the child, and our capacity to provide care and support for the child and family, without impacting the care of patients in Ontario."

Hoskins said Canada is a country which always looks into ways it can support vulnerable people around the world.

Demonstrators hold signs at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport during a protest denouncing Trump's executive order. (Branden Camp/Associated Press)

"We're still in the early stages, but we felt, and I felt — particularly in light of the occurrences in the past week in this country, in Quebec — that Canadians and Ontarians would feel comfortable and confident in expressing our openness, our willingness, our generosity to consider receiving children, infants — some as young as four months old — that without the surgery would die."

The surgeries will not displace currently scheduled procedures for Ontario children, Hoskins said.

He added it is "very early" in the process and did not speculate on the cost associated with the surgeries.

About the Author

Julia Whalen

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Julia has been working in journalism since 2012 — first as a newspaper reporter in Moncton, before making the move to Toronto to work for CBC. She's particularly interested in social issues, health and the creative community, and is a proud Maritimer and dedicated fundraiser for type 1 diabetes research.