Heart patient in Courtenay wondering why she's paying for program

Courtenay resident Samantha Pattison says she is frustrated with the Vancouver Island Health Authority after having heart troubles.

Pattison underwent open heart surgery in May, and during her time in the cardiac unit, she says she was told how important exercise is for recovering heart surgery patients. She heard about a program through VIHA offering exercise classes specifically to help heart patients in various communities on Vancouver Island.

However, when Pattison started trying to find the program, called Take Heart, in the Comox Valley, she soon discovered it's not offered here.

"We could find nothing where they actually did the stuff that they do," she says. "They take your blood pressure and they take your heart rate, and they keep track of you."

She soon found out the Take Heart program is offered in Campbell River, but discovered the cost is $359 for 24 sessions (two per week for three months). Further, Pattison estimated gas to go to Campbell River twice a week for three months would cost her about $300 as well.

But, what really irked Pattison was that staff at the recreation centre offering the program in Campbell River told her the classes would be free — if her doctor was based in Campbell River.

"They said as long as your doctor has his office or her office in Campbell River you can get it free but since my doctor was in Courtenay I had to pay," recalls Pattison. "And I said 'Well, doesn't that sound a little silly, I mean if it's VIHA and it's supposed to be for the Island?' But they said that was just the way it was."

According to VIHA spokesperson Val Wilson, the community-based exercise program is offered at 11 sites on Vancouver Island; the one in Campbell River, one in Parksville, two in Nanaimo, and six in the Greater Victoria area, plus one hospital-based site at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

She points out all Take Heart programs have the $359 user fee to cover the cost of delivering the program, but she says most sites, including the Campbell River site, have some subsidy capacity to reduce the cost.

She adds participants who are part of an Integrated Health Network — which is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Health Services and health authorities, linking patients, physicians, primary care providers and community partners to create coordinated care — may be able to get some or all of the program costs covered.

According to VIHA's website, Integrated Health Networks are offered in Campbell River, Parksville, Nanaimo, Sooke and Port Alberni.

Wilson was unable to say whether an Integrated Health Network could be offered here in the future before the Record's deadline Thursday.

Pattison said she heard — in her conversations with various staff at local recreation centres and St. Joseph's General Hospital — the Comox Valley already has people qualified to offer the Take Heart program.

Wilson confirmed there are qualified instructors here, and she noted the idea for a Comox Valley site has come up before.

"New sites are established by working in partnership with the recreation facility and VIHA. It is our understanding that the Comox Valley is interested in establishing a Take Heart program; discussions between SJGH staff, a recreation centre, and physicians took place in December 2012," says Wilson.

When asked if the program is planned for the Valley, she said, "VIHA hasn’t been formally approached at this point to set up a Take Heart program in the Comox Valley."

Meanwhile, Pattison says she just decided to exercise at the Comox Recreation Centre instead of taking part in the Take Heart program, due to the cost.

"At least it's something and I'm going, but when I first went I was a little bit nervous because I wasn't too sure, you know, how much to do," she says.

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