Jim and Margie Gibb, in happier times. Submitted photo

Love, loss and lingering questions

One family’s ordeal in the medical system leaves widower upset over treatment

Jim Gibb has more questions than answers.

Ten months after his wife passed away from an aggressive form of cancer, Mr. Gibb is left holding a handful of medical records and a headful of questions.

Fairmont Hot Springs residents Jim and Margie Gibb’s winter refuge was a 55-plus community in Tucson, Arizona, where they spent time with friends, golfed, and even celebrated last Christmas with the Canadian Club in their neighbourhood’s community centre.

Early in the evening of January 13th, 2019, Ms. Gibb was overcome with “severe” stomach pain, Mr. Gibb describes. She was taken by ambulance to a Tucson hospital, where she underwent a round of tests including X-rays, ultrasound, MRI and bone scans. The tests showed the “suspected presence of cancer,” Mr. Gibb said.

The hospital in Tucson was prepared to confirm their suspected diagnosis and start treatment right away, he explained. But the couple’s travel insurance company informed the Gibbs they would need to be flown to Canada as soon as they could locate an aircraft and a hospital bed. Mr. Gibb said the insurance representative told them they would be flown to Kelowna.

“I asked about flying to Calgary because of the proximity to our home,” Mr. Gibb said. “I was told that it had to be in British Columbia, no exceptions.”

On the evening of January 14th, the Gibbs were in an air ambulance destined for Canada. Mr. Gibb is sure they were told they would be flown to Kelowna; he remembers Margie commenting that would be fine as they had family in Kelowna and Vernon. But after they had been in the air almost an hour, they were told the plane was actually going to Invermere instead. However, inclement weather forced the plane to reroute and they ultimately landed at the Calgary airport just before midnight. A waiting ground ambulance drove the Gibbs to the Invermere hospital – a harrowing journey, Mr. Gibb recalled.

Ms. Gibb was at the Invermere hospital for the next three days. She was then given permission to go to Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre at the Foothills Hospital, where she underwent another four days of tests.

She was told that, because she was a B.C. resident, her treatment would need to be in B.C., though a letter from Foothills indicates if she had chosen to move to Alberta, her treatment could take place there. A Skype conference call was set up between the Invermere hospital and Kelowna hospital for February 7th. From that call, Ms. Gibb was sent directly to the oncology department at the hospital in Cranbrook. Six days later, Ms. Gibb received her first chemotherapy treatment on February 13th, a full month after being diagnosed with suspected cancer.

“The chemo treatment did nothing but ensure that nausea was added to the pain and discomfort that she was already experiencing,” Mr. Gibb said.

Ms. Gibb passed away on February 25th.

“It is incomprehensible in this day and age that Margie had to go through five weeks of indescribable physical, mental and emotional pain, turmoil and anxiety over bureaucratic and governmental bungling. No one should have had to go through the needless ordeal that Margie, family and friends went through,” Mr. Gibb said.

She was a beautiful woman, Mr. Gibb said of his wife. She loved to golf, paint, garden, ski, and windsurf, and had been a dedicated teacher in the school district over her 26-year career.

“She got along with everybody. She was admired by her colleagues and students,” Mr. Gibb shared.

The couple, who were married on August 3rd, 1968, were the very first to have a wedding reception at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort lodge. For their 50th wedding anniversary, they went there for dinner together.

Had he known what would have transpired by getting on the plane back to Canada, Mr. Gibb said they would have taken their chances with the bill and stayed at the hospital in Tucson where he believes Ms. Gibb could have begun treatment immediately. Or, reflecting back, Mr. Gibb said maybe they would have paid for a commercial flight and flown directly to Kelowna themselves.

Mr. Gibb is taking his story public with the hope of getting some answers, and sharing his ordeal with others so they can learn from his experience.

One of Mr. Gibb’s questions is why he and his wife were not involved in the decision-making for where she would be taken for treatment. He said the decision to send them to Invermere was made unilaterally by the insurance company. The Invermere hospital is a small hospital – “a first aid station,” Mr. Gibb described, certainly not equipped for cancer treatment compared to a massive centre like Kelowna.

The Gibb’s health insurance was through BCAA, which provides travel insurance trough North American Air Travel Insurance Agents Ltd., or TuGo as the company is branded. In a registered letter sent to Mr. Gibb on behalf of BCAA and TuGo, they claim that the plan was always to transfer Ms. Gibb to the hospital in Invermere.

“Dr. McMorran (TuGo’s doctor in charge of overseeing Ms. Gibb’s claim under the policy) decided to arrange for Mrs. Gibb’s return to the hospital in Invermere … The hospital in Invermere would also be able to further investigate the masses on Mrs. Gibb’s ovaries to determine whether Mrs. Gibb had ovarian cancer and if so, the doctors in Canada would determine the treatment plan,” the letter states.

TuGo’s marketing communications and brand manager Melissa Kaerne Manning wrote an email response to the Pioneer’s questions, noting for privacy reasons she cannot go into the details of the Gibbs’ claim. She did write that, in general terms, when it comes to decisions about moving a patient back to Canada, the first priority is always the patient’s wellbeing.

“Most patients want to return to their local hospital to be closer to family and friends, and we make this happen whenever possible,” Ms. Kaerne Manning wrote.

BC Emergency Health Services communications officer Shannon Miller told the Pioneer that to safely transfer a patient from one hospital to another, whether that is within B.C., nationally or internationally, BCEHS works with the health authority partners to identify the appropriate hospital, and ensure the right care team is in place to receive the patient. However, in the case of Margie Gibb, they have no record of a request for a transfer from Arizona.

Once they were back in Canada, Mr. Gibb also wonders why his wife was not sent directly from the Invermere hospital to a cancer centre such as Kelowna. The health authority in this case was Interior Health. In an email statement, Terri Domin, executive director for clinical operations in East Kootenay, said, “We are sorry for this family’s loss and the challenges they faced with the system which created additional stress during an already tragic time for them. We will review what took place in this case to see if there are things that could have been done differently once this patient reached Interior Health.”

Mr. Gibb still has issues with the travel insurance company and their treatment of his wife, and he has now taken up the case with the BC Patient Quality Care office.

Back home in Fairmont, Mr. Gibb has pored over the details of the file again and again. And still, he cannot figure out why events unfolded as they did. Why were they sent to Invermere instead of Calgary or Kelowna, when doctors in the States had a strong case for Ms. Gibb needing cancer treatment ASAP? Why was she sent from Arizona to Calgary to Invermere to Calgary to Invermere to Cranbrook, all within a month? Why was the insurance company allowed to make the decision for where Margie would be sent? And why, after all they went through, did his wife still die?

“I’m not rich. Not by a long shot,” Mr. Gibb said. He owns his house and vehicles, he has a few modest investments, and lives comfortably. But, he concluded, “it means absolutely nothing. I could kiss the whole works goodbye just to have Margie back.”

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