An organization that helps Prince Edward Island families with the cost of travel to medical appointments outside the province says demand has increased drastically.
Hope Air is a national charity that provides financial assistance for plane tickets, accommodations and meals. On P.E.I. it also has programs to cover the cost of driving across the Confederation Bridge or taking the seasonal passenger ferry to Nova Scotia.
"We've seen a massive spike, really a soaring of demand in 2023," said Mark Rubinstein, who oversees strategy and programming for Hope Air.
"The number of residents of Prince Edward Island who are seeking out Hope Air services increased over 100 per cent — and that's incredible growth and incredible need."
Rubinstein said he thinks the demand can be attributed to a number of factors.
The rising cost of living has been putting financial pressure on families already struggling to make ends meet before being faced with a parent or child developing an unexpected health condition.
The organization added specific P.E.I. programs in 2022 to help with bridge or ferry tolls and gas cards. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)
There's also the stressed state of the P.E.I. health-care system following the COVID-19 pandemic and the government's reliance on bigger provinces to provide specialist services for its residents.
"The COVID-19 pandemic ... created incredible pressure on our health-care system. It generated massive wait lists for procedures and surgeries as the health-care systems were trying to recover from all the challenges," said Rubinstein.
You can't say that we have a universal health-care system if you're not supporting patients who need to travel longer distances to actually reach the health care. — Mark Rubinstein of Hope Air
"Now patients have more certainty when it comes to getting a scheduled appointment to see a doctor, see a surgeon, have a procedure, have a follow-up diagnosis."
No signs of slowing down
Rubinstein said he is grateful for the support the organization receives through donations and grants as well as from the provincial government, especially since he doesn't see the need slowing down anytime soon.
"You can't say that we have a universal health-care system if you're not supporting patients who need to travel longer distances to actually reach the health care," he said.
"The system doesn't work if, at the first part of that step, patients can't afford to get to care."
To qualify for the programs, Rubinstein said a person must be travelling for treatment covered by Health P.E.I., there must be an appointment already booked in the destination province, and there must be a financial need.
"We don't think there's any one formula which adequately covers all situations and so we treat every application on its own merits," he said.
"That system has worked well for patients and for Hope Air."