A Health Haven for Snowbirds

Like many snowbirds, Cliff Penner and his wife, Deirdre, not only spend the lion’s share of season in the Coachella Valley, but come and go throughout the year. The day before Christmas Eve 2015, when Penner fell at home in Winnipeg, Manitoba — gravely injuring his right rotator cuff — he trusted that the medical system in his native country would quickly provide for him. He was sorely mistaken. “After four weeks, all I was able to get were painkillers and an X-ray,” says the 63-year-old retired land developer. “Three months later, I still didn’t have an MRI scheduled. And then, when they scheduled one, it was four months down the road.” Thankfully for Penner, a Los Angeles friend in the medical field told him about a program that would offer relatively swift relief: Eisenhower’s bundled cash pricing. “There are about 200,000 Canadians that visit the Coachella Valley every season, and the biggest issue they have is that they don’t have good connectivity to health care,” says David Renker, Director, Ambulatory Services and Special Programs, Eisenhower Medical Center. “If something occurs, what’s going to happen to them? So, in 2013, we took a closer look at that and decided to come up with a way for Canadians to access Eisenhower more readily.”

One of the chief aspects of the program is Eisenhower’s Canadian Patient Access I.D. Card, for which snowbirds pre-register. “If you present this card when you show up at any of our urgent cares or clinics, as well as at the hospital, it immediately alerts our staff that you’re Canadian, which helps us recognize you will have travel or other non-commercial insurance. If you’re seeking a procedure or certain imaging services, we know to discuss our bundled or cash rates,” says Renker of the pre-determined, one-time, bundled fee. “That way, you don’t get multiple bills for various services.” Renker notes that many Canadian snowbirds also choose to be seen by a local primary care physician, particularly if they have a chronic condition that requires ongoing care. “We can even communicate with a Canadian patient’s primary care physician back home,” adds Renker.

““There are about 200,000 Canadians that visit the Coachella Valley every season, and the biggest issue they have is that they don’t have good connectivity to health care.” - David Renker”

The bundled pricing system primarily applies to elective surgeries, which is how Penner was referred to Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon Stephen J. O’Connell, MD, Director, Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery and Chairman of Desert Orthopedic Center. “With Cliff, we had a slim window of opportunity,” says Dr. O’Connell, who sees more than 50 Canadian patients a year at Eisenhower. “If you were to rate a rotator cuff injury from one to 10, he was a nine point five, with four out of the five muscles torn off the bone — a massive injury. If he’d waited just a while longer, it might have been very tough or even impossible to fix. The damage may have been irreparable.”

It took only a week for Penner to get in to see Dr. O’Connell. “We scheduled an operation the day I saw him, and he explained everything very thoroughly to me,” recalls the grateful patient. “On the day of the surgery, I walked in, I was on the bed at the prescribed time, and everybody and everything was wonderful — from the admittance clerks to the anesthesiologist to the surgeon to the recovery room. Everybody was just spectacular. I could not have had a better experience.”

Penner’s surgery was in March 2016, and he reports that Dr. O’Connell remains attentive to this day. “He still phones me to see how I’m doing. I run into him in town from time to time, and he’s just spectacular.”

It should be noted that cash pricing is available not only to Canadians but to all patients, and that there’s no need to pre-register. “But we do find that 90 percent of Canadian snowbirds prefer to get the card,” confirms Renker. “It provides them peace of mind while they’re traveling outside of their home country.”

For more information, call 855-EMCCanada (855-362-2262) or visit emc.org/Canada.