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Insurance agency missed chance to bring ailing dad back to Ontario, daughter says

An Ontario woman says her family’s travel insurance company missed the window to get her ailing father on a plane back to Canada after he suffered a stroke in Mexico — preferring to wait for him to try getting on the commercial flight he booked.

Stephanie Hammond — who is a medical resident specializing in stroke care — told CTV News Toronto she couldn’t believe her 72-year-old father David Hammond ended up deteriorating in a Puerto Vallarta hospital instead of flying home days ago.

“Initially the insurance company expressed they wanted to see if my dad would be well enough to get on a flight that was already booked,” she said on a call from Puerto Vallarta.

“It is frustrating. There was a period of time where my dad was much more stable, and if a flight had been arranged at that time, I feel very strongly he would have been able to get back to Ontario.”

On Wednesday, Mexican doctors concluded David Hammond was again safe to fly, but only to Florida.

Early Thursday morning, Hammond’s family confirmed he had been loaded on an air ambulance and was now in the emergency room at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

“We strive to do everything within our power to serve our customers and are proactively assisting the individual and his family during this very difficult time,” Manulife, which underwrites the policy that was sold through the McLennan Group, told CTV News Toronto.

Hammond said the insurer told them it had been trying to get a bed at Oakville Trafalgar Hospital but couldn’t – something that has been a problem as Ontario’s healthcare system struggled with waves of respiratory diseases in the new year.

Sheila Burns of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association said insurance companies had warned travellers that backups in Canadian health care could make repatriating people take much longer, as the system recovers from the stress of the pandemic.

“What we’ve seen more recently is hospital staff shortages and if they don’t have the staff available to take on new patients,” Burns said.

Halton Healthcare, which operates the hospital, denied that it’s had any capacity problems in the past 10 days.

“Halton Healthcare regularly monitors patient volumes and plans for potential surges and makes adjustments as needed. This is not a problem at this time.”

Lawyer Nainesh Kotak said the insurance company may learn a lesson from this, given that they will have to provide care for Hammond in the U.S.

“At the end of the day, the insurance company is paying out a lot more money than it would have had it just arranged air transport in the first place,” Kotak said.

The Hammonds are now hoping that David can stabilize there to allow them to take another flight back to Ontario.

“It’s scary, it’s worrisome, and it’s also so hard being so far from home,” Stephanie Hammond said. Top Stories

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