Toronto family forced to pay to bring uncle's body back after hospital transfer to Ottawa
TORONTO -- A Toronto woman says her family was forced to pay a private company to bring her uncle's body home after he was transferred to a hospital in Ottawa and later died there of COVID-19.
"We don't know anyone in Ottawa, we don't have family there. All of our family is here. His support system is here," Jaime Nguyen said in an interview with CTV National News.
Nguyen's uncle died of COVID-19 a week ago, taking his last breath alone and in a hospital hours away from his loved ones.
"Even now I’m so angry about it," Nguyen said.
She says dying alone, far from his family was an indignity she never thought her uncle would have to suffer, at least not in Canada.
Nguyen said her uncle immigrated to Canada in 1975 as part of a wave of Vietnamese refugees.
CTV News is not identifying the man to protect his immediate family, who are concerned about potential anti-Asian backlash.
The 72-year-old was being treated at Scarborough General Hospital in Toronto after contracting COVID-19.
When his symptoms worsened, Nguyen said the family was told that there was no room for him in the ICU.
He was transported nearly 400 kilometres away to Montfort Hospital in Ottawa and later died there.
"He was by himself in a city that he didn’t know, it wasn’t home, no one was there for him," Nguyen said.
Adding to the devastation, the end of his battle against COVID-19 has sparked a new fight for his family.
Nguyen says the family struggled to figure out how to get her uncle’s body back to Toronto, with no help from officials.
"When he passed away, my cousin -- his son, was trying to get into communication with the powers that be, so Health Canada, TeleHealth Ontario, whoever else would listen, just to figure out how to get his body back," Nguyen said.
She says the family was given the runaround by everyone they talked to.
In the end, the family had to pay $1,062 out of pocket for private transportation to get his body back to Toronto for a funeral.
Nguyen said her uncle’s body was reduced to a dehumanizing set of numbers on an invoice.
"We were left incredibly confused and left with no other option other than paying out of pocket to bring him home," she said.
According to data tracked by CTVNews.ca, 24,117 Canadians have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic as of Wednesday evening.
As COVID-19 cases rise and hospitals fill up across the country, Nguyen warns her uncle's situation may be one more families face.
"To go in a way like this seems unfathomable," Nguyen said.
Amid the grief of losing a loved one to COVID-19 and the additional burden of having him die in another city, Nguyen says the family is still fighting to get the cost of bringing her uncle's body back reimbursed.
CTV News has reached out to Ontario's Ministry of Health, but did not receive a response at the time of publishing.
Nguyen said it is a traumatic scenario that shouldn't have happened in the first place.
"The systems that were created that are supposed to help us and make this process easier did not make it easier," she said.
A previous version of this story misstated the distance between Scarborough General Hospital in Toronto and Montfort Hospital in Ottawa. The two facilities are nearly 400 kilometres apart.