Hospitals in Canada’s socialized medical system denied a 7-year-old boy treatment for a severely fractured humerus after the family declined a PCR test for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and were insistent that facilities respected his medical mask exemption, say the child’s family.
In October, Hailey, her husband, and their children were moving from Nova Scotia to Ontario. While en route on Oct. 4, the family took their son, Zander, to a dirt bike track in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Hailey said in a Nov. 16 interview with independent media outlet Rebel News that her kids do motocross as an activity and that Zander is “a very accomplished dirt biker.”
While at the track, Zander crashed going over a jump, breaking the top of his left humerus bone. The family took Zander to the city hospital in Fredericton for immediate care. Hailey described the original outcome as, “After being assessed, the orthopedic surgeon said ‘we’re going to sling it, and let gravity fix it’.”
“I definitely asked a lot of questions at that moment, because I was really shocked that he wasn’t going to receive surgery or have that shoulder reset,” said the boy’s mother.
According to Hailey, the surgeon simply said “that was the treatment plan.” When she pressed the hospital to perform surgery, the hospital told her that they were “less inclined” to do surgery on account of the family being in the midst of moving across the country.
After the first night when pain medication was not effective and Zander remained in obvious agony, the family took their son to the Halifax IWK Children’s Hospital for additional care. Hailey said the family was relieved when the surgeon at the second facility was prepared to sedate and perform surgery on Zander.
However, “About 20 minutes later, a nurse came in and told me that he had to undergo a PCR COVID test,” she said.
When the family queried the nurse for the reason, Hailey said she was told that the test was to protect hospital staff in the event Zander was COVID positive. Because the boy had no COVID symptoms and PCR nasal swabs are an invasive test, Hailey declined the procedure.
After refusing the test, Hailey said it was only five minutes before the surgeon returned to the family to say that “the prognosis has changed,” and that they would not be operating on the boy, instead once again sending him home in a sling.
The family asked for a referral to the London Children’s Hospital in Ontario, but was unable to obtain an appointment until Oct. 20, 16 days after the break first occurred.
When the appointment finally came, Hailey says they had a great experience with the hospital’s team. The doctor told the family that they were on the fence about performing surgery, because it had already been more than two weeks since the original injury, which had naturally undergone significant healing.
Hailey and her husband insisted on surgery because they were concerned about long term effects and could recognize from day-to-day observations that their son’s injury wasn’t healing properly.
The family did not hear back from the hospital until the next follow up appointment scheduled a week later on Oct. 27, although they were told that due to the severity of Zander’s fracture that they would be contacted early.
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However, during the follow up appointment, Hailey says they “met with challenges” over Zander’s specialist-prescribed mask exemption.
Hailey said, “We were also told that we were not able to go unless everyone from that department was comfortable with my 7-year-old son being around them, being that he had a mask exemption.”
According to Rebel, the hospital’s Patient and Visitor Masking policy recognizes mask exemptions and that “health-care workers are protected from those unable to mask by wearing their own required PPE.”
When asked to provide a copy of Zander’s mask exemption to the hospital’s screening agent, Hailey declined on the basis that the screener was not the treating physician, but said she made it clear she would provide the document to the doctor directly.
As a result, Hailey says they were entirely denied entry to the hospital, which would result in the cancellation of Zander’s appointment. The family, unwilling to simply go away, attempted to enter through an alternate door, and were successful.
However, when attending the appointment, Hailey said that because Zander was maskless, the family was met with hostility and the boy was denied treatment by department staff.
The family asked to speak with the attending physician directly, but staff refused to acquiesce. Hailey even asked for a plastic face shield for Zander to wear in place of a mask, a request which was also declined.
“We were told over and over that he needed to wear a mask and that he was a danger to the other children in attendance for their appointments,” said Hailey, who added that the family was removed by a pair of security guards from the premises before Zander could receive treatment or schedule follow up.
Rebel News said they reached out to the London Health Science Centre (LHSC), the hospital network the Children’s Hospital belongs to, for comment on Zander’s case. Rebel asked questions such as why the boy was denied medical care, on whose authority his care was denied, and if the hospital would agree to treat Zander immediately.
A spokesperson for the Centre declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality. Instead, the LHSC issued a boilerplate statement stating they are committed to “equitable, compassionate, and fair treatment to all patients.”
The LHSC also characterized their “universal mask policy” as “evidence of [a] commitment to keeping everyone within our walls safe,” and claimed that the Centre “works hard to accommodate those with specific care needs, including those who cannot wear masks.”
After Rebel inquired with the LHSC, Hailey said she received a phone call saying the physician was willing to meet with Zander, so the family made the two hour trip to attend.
The family says they were told that an employee would meet them at the door of the hospital to handle the mask exemption issue, but when they arrived, security said they needed to stand outside in the rain because the boy was unmasked.
The employees, which took some time to finally arrive, turned out to be a hospital manager and a patient advocate, who remained in tow for the duration of Zander’s appointment with the attending physician.
After being seen and given x-rays, the family was again told Zander should simply wear a sling and let nature and gravity take its course. Hailey said that when they asked their doctor about how the same approach already used would heal the boy’s fracture, they were told, “It’s too late to do surgery now.”
They were also told that Zander’s fracture “Wasn’t going to heal the way it should have because surgery was not done” in the early stages, said the mother.
Afterwards, the family took the child for yet another medical opinion at the Windsor Orthopedic Department, where Hailey says a physician gave the grim prognosis that “Zander will forever be deformed due to this injury and surgery not being done.”
The doctor was hesitant to sedate and perform surgery at this time, because new bone had already grown in Zander’s arm. In order to attempt to rectify the situation, the surgeon would have to re-break the arm in an attempt to reset the bone.
“At this point, we’ve been informed that his left arm will forever be shorter than his right arm,” said Hailey.
Now seven weeks after the original accident, Hailey says Zander cannot dress himself, cannot lift his arm, the fracture is still significantly sensitive, and the boy is in notable pain.
Hailey was asked by Rebel’s anchor if she had lost faith in Canada’s socialized medical system, “Six weeks ago, I was very optimistic that the physicians and health care system would see my seven-year-old son with his injury. Six weeks later, my experience, my son’s experience, our takeaway is that now COVID is the only focus right now, and looking back, I just wish that the compassion and the advocacy would have been for my son’s care with the broken humerus, not with his disability and mask exemption.”
“I just wish that they would have seen Zander for the seven-year-old child that he is, and not seen his smile as a threat to the healthcare system,” she continued.
“It just blows my mind.”