N.L. families waiting on IVF travel funding stuck in limbo

·3 min read
Jessica Penney and her family are waiting on funding for IVF treatment that Health Minister John Haggie said in August was coming within 'weeks.' (Aamie Gillam Photography/Submitted by Jessica Penney - image credit)
Jessica Penney and her family are waiting on funding for IVF treatment that Health Minister John Haggie said in August was coming within 'weeks.' (Aamie Gillam Photography/Submitted by Jessica Penney - image credit)
Aamie Gillam Photography/Submitted by Jessica Penney
Aamie Gillam Photography/Submitted by Jessica Penney

Newfoundland and Labrador families who need to travel for in vitro fertilization treatment are still waiting on funding promised months ago — and some are wondering if it will ever arrive.

N.L. is one of just two provinces without its own IVF clinic, forcing anyone who needs the treatment to spend thousands of dollars travelling to places like Halifax, Calgary and Toronto.

During the provincial election earlier this year, the Liberal Party released a statement promising funding for those who need to travel for IVF would come "in the immediate term." In August, Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie said a funding package would be announced within weeks.

Two months later, that funding has yet to materialize.

Jessica Penney, a St. John's woman planning to begin IVF treatment in Calgary, has been waiting for the travel funding since it was announced. She said the lack of news has been "completely discouraging."

"I think that [the commitment] was a tactic to just shut people up," she said in an interview with CBC News. "Until you see numbers, it really doesn't mean anything."

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Penney said the cost of travelling for IVF treatment can run up to $30,000 counting flights, medication, treatment plans, hotel rooms, rental cars, food and other expenses. The procedure is not covered by the provincial medical care plan. Penney and her husband would also need to take three weeks off work.

"It is a huge, huge cost," she said.

Penney wants an IVF clinic in Newfoundland and Labrador so families don't have to travel to other provinces at all. She said it's "devastating" to watch the population of the province decline while IVF treatment remains inaccessible to many.

"People looking to bring children into our province have absolutely no support to do so," she said. "You're driving people from the province because they cannot get the fertility treatments or the access that they need to build our province."

CBC has asked the Department of Health and Community Services for comment.

'A time-sensitive issue'

Penney and her husband aren't the only ones in Newfoundland and Labrador waiting for funding to travel for IVF treatment.

Fertility services advocate Ledon Wellon created the Facebook page Faces of Fertility in May 2020 to share the stories of people in Newfoundland and Labrador who are struggling with infertility.

After five years of treatments and surgeries, Wellon is now nine months pregnant. Although IVF did not work in her case, she hasn't stopped advocating for access to the treatment in the province.

Wellon says she gets multiple messages each week from people who need to travel outside Newfoundland and Labrador for IVF treatment but don't have the resources.

Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

"People are really, really desperate and waiting for any amount of money that they can get from the government just to help us along," she said. "The government's talking about trying to up our population, but they're not helping us."

Wellon said people put their lives on hold waiting on funding to travel for IVF treatment, only to have their hopes dashed when that funding did not appear.

"Why even promise it if you're just going to disappoint so many people?" she asked. "It's a time-sensitive issue for almost everyone who is dealing with it and the long waits are just not helping anything."

Penney said she isn't sure what she's going to do if the funding doesn't appear soon.

"You can't rely on the government to make your decisions. You kind of just have to plan what you're going to do or you're going to be waiting forever," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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