Bounced from hospital to hospital, injured teen blames his Quebec health card

A Gatineau, Que., teenager who badly broke his hand last week has now been transferred to seven different hospitals across Ontario and Quebec, with no one able to agree on who should treat him.

Cameron Hunter, 19, has sought care in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa-Gatineau

Cameron Hunter has been in pain for nearly a week after breaking his hand while playing hockey Feb. 12 in Toronto. The Gatineau, Que., teen is finally slated for surgery next week, after a circuitous journey through Ontario and Quebec's health-care system. (Stu Mills/CBC)

UPDATE: Cameron Hunter got his surgery Feb. 23.

A Gatineau, Que., teenager who badly broke his hand last week has now been transferred to seven different hospitals across Ontario and Quebec, with no one able to agree on who should treat him.

Last Saturday, 19-year-old Cameron Hunter was injured while playing hockey in Toronto and was taken to the emergency department at Toronto General Hospital.

Since then, doctors have bounced the teen between hospitals in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Gatineau, without actually carrying out the surgery they all agree he needs.

He and his father, Sean, say it's his Quebec health card that is getting in the way. 

"It made us feel that we were second-class, and we will get second-class treatment," Sean Hunter said.

The Hunter family says a doctor at The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus told them the teen's Quebec health-care card stood in the way of the surgery he needed. (Stu Mills/CBC)

An interprovincial odyssey

The long, strange health-care odyssey — told to CBC by the family and supported by photos of Cameron Hunter's files — began at Toronto General Hospital, where doctors said the teenager's nasty break meant a surgeon with plastic and orthopedic expertise was needed.

 The pair was directed to a hand surgery specialist at Toronto Western Hospital.

However, when Sunday morning came, the surgeon said that — since the injury would need followup surgery and care — it would be more convenient if Cameron Hunter was treated at the Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital.

The family drove back to Ottawa and waited six hours at the Civic, only to have the doctor tell them he wouldn't do the surgery because he feared he wouldn't be reimbursed for the procedure by Quebec.

"He put it pretty bluntly," said Cameron Hunter. "He said if we had an Ontario health-care card, we'd go through with the surgery."

The decision stung, he added, since he'd spent the previous summer working as an orderly at the Civic. 

Back to Toronto, then on to Montreal

"It felt horrible," said Sean Hunter, who decided to drive back to Toronto Western Hospital to plead their case again.

However, staff insisted once more that care should be closer to the family's home. They advised the family to report to the emergency department at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital.

Again, staff demurred and directed Cameron to the Montreal General Hospital, where he was told a hand specialist could carry out the surgery.

An image of Cameron Hunter's injured hand and forearm. At Toronto Western Hospital, doctors corrected a dislocation but changed their minds about performing surgery. (Submitted, Cameron Hunter)

By this time, Cameron Hunter had tested positive COVID-19. So Sean Hunter, assuming he also had the virus, stayed outside in the family car while the teen, favouring his badly swollen wrist, pursued treatment. 

At Montreal General, doctors again agreed the hockey player's injury needed surgery, but that it might take ten days before a bed was available.

The entire time, Cameron Hunter — expecting surgery might be imminent — ate practically nothing over nearly four days.

The Hunter family's situation is "really egregious," said Martha Jackman, a constitutional law expert at the University of Ottawa.

Apart from complaints to a hospital's ombudsman, there are few accountability mechanisms for individuals who feel they've been denied proper health-care, Jackman said.

"If we think of ourselves as having one right, it's access to health-care based on need," she said, suggesting that denying someone care could be a charter violation.

"It seems unbelievable that a young person suffering that kind of pretty traumatic injury, that we wouldn't attend to them first and then figure out how to be paid next."

Paul Brunet, a lawyer and head of the Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients, was particularly critical of the way Ottawa Hospital staff responded.

"Stop being bureaucrats and just do your job and help patients wherever [they've come from] in Canada," he said.

Cameron Hunter is slated for surgery in Gatineau next week, but neither he nor his father, Sean, are especially optimistic it will go ahead. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'It felt like discrimination'

The Ottawa Hospital wouldn't answer questions about why Hunter was refused treatment, citing patient confidentiality, but said the facility does "work closely with care teams from other facilities to ensure patients receive the care they need."

Marie Louise Harvey, a spokesperson from Quebec's Ministry of Health and Social Services, said there are not substantial obstacles for Quebec residents who seek medical treatment outside of the province.

Patients should pay the doctor's fees out of pocket, keep receipts, and submit them to the provincial insurance provider, Harvey said.

Quebec's policy, however, is to remunerate patients according to the rates in Quebec, even if they are lower than the fees actually paid, she added.

The Hunters said they're now concerned about how the long-term effects of delayed treatment might affect Cameron's use of his hand and his hockey future.

They've now been told they can expect surgery at Gatineau's Papineau Hospital next Tuesday.

Given what has happened so far, they aren't optimistic.

"It felt like discrimination," said Sean Hunter. "It really did."

Sean Hunter shares the story of his son’s circuitous journey of being bounced around Ontario and Quebec's health-care system to get surgery for his broken hand.