Nurse left with tough decision
A veteran nurse with almost 50 years on the healthcare frontline is shocked to find she has no insurance coverage for emergency bone cancer treatment overseas.
Eloise Bell, 73, said yesterday: “I've worked here for 50 years, paid my insurance for 50 years, and the one time I need it I can't get any coverage.”
Ms Bell said she was told by a pharmacist when she picked up prescriptions for blood pressure treatment and painkillers six weeks ago that her health insurance covered only hospital care at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
She added: “I couldn't believe it. I don't even get a discount for being over 65.”
Ms Bell, who had bone cancer in her right leg diagnosed three weeks ago, said she had no choice but to travel to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston tomorrow for further treatment.
She added: “If I could get it checked here, I could understand why they won't cover me overseas. But they won't do it here. Ms Bell asked: “So what happens to someone who has a condition they can't handle here? Do they have to die because they don't have insurance for overseas?”
Ms Bell said she now has to find thousands of dollars for her flight, hotel accommodation and treatment in Boston, and did not know what further treatment might cost.
She added: “They are causing me to put my life over money and I have 24 hours to make a decision.”
Now she has launched an appeal for financial help and obtained a temporary fundraising licence. She said: “This is my appeal to the public to lend their voice in my support.
“Perhaps some of the people I have helped over the years will be able to help me out.”
Ms Bell said she had cared for thousands of patients over her career, including hundreds flown overseas by the Bermuda Air Medivac plane from 2004 to 2011.
Ms Bell was the service's vice-president and chief flight nurse for the service until it folded. She said her health problem started in April with an ache that she at first thought was a pulled muscle.
Doctors suggested arthritis, then myositis, a muscle inflammation, but a CT scan, followed by an MRI, revealed a tumour on her right thigh bone near her hip. Ms Bell said: “You can see on the scan that it is almost through to the marrow of the bone. That's why there is such time pressure.”
She added: “It's serious. I was told the worst-case scenario is I'll lose my leg. I had a little cry and then pulled myself together for the next step.”
She said a biopsy at Brigham and Women's would determine if the tumour was malignant or benign.
Ms Bell explained the procedure was said to be “too dangerous to do in Bermuda”.
She added: “In my 50 years as a nurse, I have had one inpatient hospital visit, for the delivery of my daughter. I have been off ill about ten days.”
Ms Bell retired from the hospital seven years ago, but she has been employed there ever since in full-time, part-time and casual roles.
Ms Bell explained that casual nurses were called in when the hospital was short staffed, and were “not supposed to work more than a certain number of hours per year”.
She added: “All I knew was I had hospital insurance. I didn't think it mattered whether it was Bermuda or Timbuktu.”
Ms Bell said a part-time nurse from overseas had a massive heart attack last year while he awaited a new contract.
She added: “He had no insurance because he hadn't started his new contract. He told me he thought he would have a second heart attack when he found out it cost about $100,000, but they still covered him.
“I never knew my insurance only covered me for hospital here. I don't have FutureCare because I don't need it.
“Last month, I did full-time hours in the emergency room, so I should be covered for that.”
A spokeswoman for the Bermuda Hospitals Board confirmed last night that Ms Bell was “a casual at BHB”, but said that board could not comment on individual cases because of employment confidentiality.
She added: “However, we can confirm as a matter of policy, all staff are offered the BHB retiree health plan when they retire from BHB, which includes overseas care as part of major medical.
“People who do not take up the plan due to their pursuit of alternate employment or their decision to take a health plan independently, forfeit their option to join the retiree plan.
“Those who take alternate employment post retirement, including working at BHB as a casual, are subject to the health plan offered by the employment.
“BHB casual health benefits only cover those required by the Health Insurance Act.”
• Eloise Bell's charity is registered as T2072 with Butterfield Bank account number 20006060202892100