/Nova Scotia snowbirds face large medical bill after contracting COVID-19 in Florida | The Chronicle Herald

Nova Scotia snowbirds face large medical bill after contracting COVID-19 in Florida | The Chronicle Herald

A Kings County couple are facing hefty medical bills after they both became ill with COVID-19 while in Florida.

Debbie Mailman of Aylesford says she and her husband, Wayne, travel annually to Florida for six months of the year because their arthritis, muscular issues, fibromyalgia and other existing conditions would leave them in in pain if they stayed in the cold Canadian winter.

“If we stayed home we’d be in agony all the time,” she said. “We just come here for the warm weather.”

They were booked to go to their Florida home, in a park for snowbird retirees in Largo, on Jan. 1. But, a good deal on airline tickets came up so they booked those and left on Dec. 5.

After they arrived, Mailman said, they weren’t feeling well, but they chalked it up to a combination of their jet lag and existing health issues.

“When we fly, we’re sick for the first week or so here,” she said. “We didn’t realize we were as sick as we were.”

Sometime around Dec. 21, she said, she realized that their annual insurance for their stay was still booked for Jan. 1, so she called the insurance provider and rescheduled it to start that day, getting a new policy number.

On Dec. 22, Wayne fell and couldn’t get up, and she couldn’t help him because she felt so weak. An ambulance was called and took them both to hospital, where they tested positive for the virus.

“He didn’t look right, he looked awful,” Mailman said of her husband, who until that day told her he felt fine.

Mailman said she was hospitalized for eight days and on oxygen, but her husband’s condition was worse. He was on a ventilator for a time, and remained in hospital until he was airlifted back to Nova Scotia last week. He remains in a 14-day quarantine at Valley Regional Hospital, where he is on oxygen and still unable to walk.

Mailman, though, is still in Florida.

“They wouldn’t let me on the ambulance with him, because I hadn’t had a recent negative Covid test,” she said. “I’ve been going everywhere to try to get one.”

The Canadian government requires Canadians returning here to have a negative test within 72 hours of a flight. She has a test booked for Wednesday, and a flight for Thursday.

She said they don’t know how or when they contracted the virus.

“I have no no clue,” she said. “We only bought groceries and wore a mask. We didn’t go anywhere without a mask and mostly stayed in the park.”

She doesn’t remember anything of her first three days in the hospital, but was told that within an hour Wayne went into cardiac arrest and suffered a collapsed lung. He was put on the ventilator that day.

When she got back to her Florida home after the hospital stay, she heard from the insurance company. It said it isn’t going to cover their medical costs.

“I argued, but they wouldn’t listen to me,” she said.

The company told her the policy was null and void because the couple already had COVID-19 when they updated the policy. Nor would it honour the Jan. 1 policy, when her husband was already in hospital, because the virus was also a pre-existing condition.

“That’s what I’ve been fighting,” she said.

She said the company did arrange the air ambulance to bring Wayne back to Nova Scotia so he wouldn’t keep accumulating hospital bills there.

But, she said, she’s been told the bill for her husband’s stay could be upwards of $300,000. She doesn’t yet know what the cost of her stay will be.

“Right now I just can’t even think about it, upsets me so much and I get a migraine,” she said. “I’ve decided to put it on the back burner for now, until I get home and see what kind of condition Wayne’s in. I’m just going to concentrate on him.”

After the couple was hospitalized, Mailman didn’t see her husband again until he was being prepared for the air ambulance because he had been in isolation.

“He’s lost a lot of weight, he’s very sick,” she said.

She said she had talked to him four times a day since he arrived in Kentville, and she can tell from his voice that he’s getting better and stronger. But, she said, he’s still on oxygen and needs to learn to walk again.