05/08/2015 08:02 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT

Yukon woman will face $5K medevac bill to give birth in N.W.T.

An expectant mother living in Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., will face a $5,000 medevac bill when she gives birth later this month due to a combination of bad timing and crowded conditions at the Inuvik hospital that she found unacceptable.

"I just couldn't believe they would expect that of a woman at the most vulnerable time of her life," said Bethany Church.

Church, who is eight months pregnant, recently moved to the Northwest Territories from Yukon and doesn't yet qualify for N.W.T. health coverage.

In N.W.T., moms without a birthing centre in their community stay at a transient centre at the regional hospital for the last two weeks of pregnancy. First-time mothers are expected to spend the last four weeks of their pregnancy at the hospital.

This is Church's first pregnancy and she was instructed to get to the hospital, so she drove from Tsiigehtchic to Inuvik on Monday. When she got there, the transient centre was full, so a staff member set a cot up for her in another person's room.

"The wards were jammed," she said. "People were squished together on the few couches. Others were coming and going to their own medical appointments.

"There was no privacy, no support and no comfort. It 's basically a hospital wing and I dreaded the fact that I was going to be away from my family and so I left."

She returned to her partner in Tsiigehtchic. 

Road closed

The road between Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik is now closed. The ice bridge has shut for the season and it may be weeks before the ferry is running.

The community of about 130 people does not have an airport. Supplies are airlifted across the river during freeze-up and break-up by helicopter.

When she goes into labour, Church will now require a medevac to Inuvik. 

Her Yukon health insurance covers physician and hospital visits, but not the stay at the transient centre nor an out-of-territory medevac. She said the cost of staying at the centre for four weeks would be $5,100, and a medevac flight would be about $5,000.

The hospital had told her it could contact Yukon to work out an arrangement to pay for her stay at the transient centre.

But Church said staying in a boarding home without her partner for the remaining weeks of her pregnancy is not an "emotionally safe" option for her.

"Coming from the south, I know there are other options and I know that there are other rights provided to other Canadians that should be provided to all Canadians regardless of whether they live in a remote community or not," she said.

Church said she doesn't know how she'll afford a medevac, but said the cost is worth her peace of mind.

'A hard situation'

Michelle Rees, a doula in Yellowknife, spent six years in Inuvik, including working with the obstetrics team at the hospital. She said being away from home for weeks to give birth is "a hard situation to be in."

"You're being told that you should be there for your safety and for baby's safety, yet being there can possibly feel so wrong," she said.

"Growing a baby's not an easy thing to do. Mom needs to get rest and if she's surrounded by strangers through the day and through the night that's not healthy for mom. And that's not healthy for baby."

A spokesperson for the Yukon health department said not covering ground or air ambulance travel that originates out-of-territory "is common among all Canadian jurisdictions and is why we always encourage Yukoners leaving the territory (and outsiders visiting our territory) to obtain additional health insurance."

Church returning to Yukon and having her baby there is "a viable option," the spokesperson added.

Church's baby is due May 27.