Migrant worker with cancer in N.S. will get temporary federal health-care coverage

Kerian Burnett, a migrant worker from Jamaica who was diagnosed with cancer last year, has recently learned she will get federal health-care coverage until her temporary resident status expires in January.

“It has definitely been a long road and it was challenging at times. There were times that I went to the hospital for treatment and I was denied because I did not have health insurance. Those feelings were, like, devastating but I had to fight,” Burnett said during a news conference on Monday in Halifax.

In 2022, the 42-year-old had been picking strawberries for two months on a farm in Colchester County, N.S., when she started to feel sick. She was fired from her job and was later diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Burnett was facing expensive surgeries as well as radiation and chemotherapy treatments, which she has had done in Halifax since. She said it came as a big relief last week when she learned she would be eligible for the interim federal health program (IFHP).

The federal government says that program “provides limited, temporary coverage of health-care benefits” to people like Burnett who aren’t eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance.

Qualifying for health coverage

Foreign workers must have a work permit for a minimum of 12 months to qualify for the MSI program, according to the province. But the federal seasonal agricultural worker program program only allows workers to be in Canada for a maximum of eight months.

In November 2022, Burnett had racked up about $81,000 after two surgeries.

She has six children and one grandchild back in Jamaica.

‘Very important win,’ says advocate

Stacey Gomez, manager of the migrant worker program with No One Is Illegal in Halifax, said Burnett’s case is a “very important win” for migrant workers in Nova Scotia.

“There is widespread abuse of migrant workers under the seasonal workers program and many people, many workers fear speaking out because of the reprisals against them where they could easily be fired, sent back to their home country and not be able to come back to work in Canada again,” Gomez said.

Burnett said she hasn’t decided what she’ll do come January, when her eligibility for federal health-care coverage is up. She said she is still receiving treatment.

“I can’t speak to what is coming next, I just have to take it as it comes along,” she said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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