PEI

P.E.I.'s new ostomy financial-aid program a 'good start' but could do more, says support group

Islanders living with an ostomy now have access to financial assistance through the provincial government. Members of P.E.I.'s Peer Support Group of the Ostomy Canada Society say while the program is a great starting point — more can be done to help those in need.

'We know that the program is there and any program that you start can be improved upon'

P.E.I.'s Peer Support Group of Ostomy Canada Society says more could be done to help those in need. The group is applauding a new government program that provides financial assistance for supplies but says it doesn't fit everyone. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

P.E.I.'s Peer Support Group of the Ostomy Canada Society says more could be done to help those living with an ostomy. 

The group is applauding a new government program that provides financial assistance for supplies, but says it doesn't fit everyone. 

People living with a permanent ostomy use an external pouch to eliminate waste from their bodies. Ostomy surgery is a treatment for severe gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases.

The program, which was announced last fall, launched on Jan. 1 and will be open to Islanders who require a permanent ostomy and will cover 60 to 90 per cent of the costs of ostomy supplies — depending on the person's income — up to $2,400.

Christine MacCallum, who lives with an ostomy and facilitates the peer support group on the Island, said while she's thrilled to see a program in place, more can be done to ensure everyone has the support they need.

'It really needs to be improved quite a bit more in order to really be a big help to everyone,' says Christine MacCallum, facilitator of P.E.I.'s ostomy support group. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"$2,400 a year is a good start but some people can use that in one month, that's the sad part. It's really hard to get a handle on exactly what each person is going to use because everyone is different," MacCallum said.

"It really needs to be improved quite a bit more in order to really be a big help to everyone. [For] some people it will be great, but to others, it's just you know ... it's a good start."

Costs to be reimbursed

MacCallum said costs of ostomy supplies per year can range drastically from person to person as some may require more supplies than others or go through them faster. 

"Especially people who have just had the surgery or have had surgeries that just totally disfigure the area that needs to be looked after," MacCallum said.

"You may need special barriers or special cleaners or all kinds of different things and that could cost you probably $500 in a month or more depending on how often you have to change it, which could be five times in one day."

MacCallum said many in the group are also concerned about the way funds will be reimbursed. 

Grant Wyand, acting manager of PEI Pharmacare, said the department will monitor the program closely as it rolls out and would be open to making amendments moving forward. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Grant Wyand, acting manager of PEI Pharmacare, said people will pay for their supplies upfront and then be reimbursed for the covered portion of that cost. He said the department hopes the turnaround will be quick, but applicants have been notified it could take six to eight weeks for that money to be returned.

"In an effort to allow us to get some financial benefit back to those clients, this was the quickest, easiest way for us to do it," Wyand said. 

"That's not to say as we go through the program and understand what's working and what isn't working with it, there could be potential alternative reimbursement methods that we investigate in the future," he added.

'Finally getting some help'

MacCallum said the ostomy support group began discussions with the province about establishing financial support last March and she's impressed with how quickly a program was put in place. She encourages anyone living with an ostomy to look into the program to get the support they need.

"The emotional part of getting an ostomy is probably the worst part of getting an ostomy," MacCallum said. "So this was a great relief to say, we're finally getting some help here. This is wonderful … we know that the program is there and any program that you start can be improved upon."

MacCallum says the group applauds the province for putting a program in place so quickly and hopes to help make improvements to it in the future. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

MacCallum says in addition to increasing the amount covered through the program the group would also like to see the province cover costs upfront.

Wyand said the department did research and looked at similar programs in other provinces to develop P.E.I.'s system.

He said the department will monitor the program closely as it rolls out to gain a better understanding of how the public is responding to it and would be open to exploring other options moving forward.

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About the Author

Brittany Spencer is a multi-platform journalist with CBC P.E.I. Email: brittany.spencer@cbc.ca