“No one wakes up that morning and says, ‘I’m going to have a heart attack, I should plan around it,’” explained Pahl, general manager of the Tignish Credit Union in P.E.I.
“Until you go through it, most people don’t investigate what kind of options are available to them because you never think it’s going to happen to you.”
He has clients come in at least once a month with health issues as a result of farming, fishing or motor vehicle accidents as well as heart attacks, strokes and physical disabilities, to name a few.
“The reality is this happens all the time,” said Pahl. “It’s more complicated than people think.”
Christine Cameron of Summerside understands all too well the financial implications of having a family member that is dealing with health issues. Christine’s 11-year-old son Dillon has cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder and West syndrome, a rare seizure disorder.
For treatment, Christine drives Dillon to the IWK Children’s Hospital once a month. In Halifax, they stay at Ronald McDonald House if there is a room available, and if there isn’t, a hotel. Costs for the bridge toll, gas and accommodations come out of pocket. Christine saves for the trip to Halifax beforehand.
The community has also rallied behind Christine and Dillon, and helped out when they could.
Two years ago, the family needed a new van with a wheelchair ramp for Dillon. To help pay for the van, the community and businesses stepped in with donations, fundraising events and a GoFundMe campaign.
In the past, Christine has seen a financial advisor, but today she manages the budget herself. In terms of finding out about programs, she said other parents are good sources of information.
“It’s really hard to get any information in any area when it has to do with children with special needs,” she says.
For clients that go to the credit union for advice, Pahl said the first step in to understand the client’s situation, because the financial impact can affect each person and family differently. In general, they will look at spending habits over the previous three months and find ways to cut back. Other strategies involve looking at borrowing and insurance options, if needed.
“Whatever we do, we try to personalize it to that family or individual going through this,” he said.Charlottetown-based financial planner Blair Corkum, of Blair Corkum Financial Planning Inc., advises people to put money aside that will cover three to six months of living expenses in a high interest savings account in order to be prepared for the financial impact related to an illness, injury or emergency.
He recommends talking to your bank about options to spread out and lower mortgage and loan payments, and to find out about available government programs that can help out, such as employment insurance sickness benefits, drug plans and home care services. The Canadian Red Cross also lends wheelchairs and other equipment while organizations, such as Pat and the Elephant, can provide low-cost transportation to medical appointments.
Overall, he also recommends finding ways to save money, such as cutting back on entertainment or eating out. Most importantly, he advises people to avoid racking up their credit cards or using a line of credit to get by because eventually, the money has to be paid back. But if that route is necessary, choose the line of credit because of the lower interest rate.