By Joanne McDonald
With decades of experience filing medical records at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital, it’s no surprise Grimsby resident Irene Tarling would have a paper trail of her own memorable events.
But it was a surprise during a recent purge to organize memory boxes for her family, when a financial statement for the birth of her first child turned up a grand total of $166.93 for the labour, delivery and nine-day stay at the Saskatoon City Hospital.
It was 1958. Tommy Douglas, then Premier of Saskatchewan had just opened the door to the country’s first single-payer, universal health care plan – the first program in North America to offer taxpayer-funded hospital care to all citizens.
For the Tarlings, Irene and Walter, it meant the costs – excluding extras such as ‘baby’s beads’ at $1, special medicines at 44 cents and an additional $2 per day for a semi-private room – were covered by insurance that day.
A bill for $166 may be somewhat relevant to the time considering wages and average family incomes in 1958.
But regardless says Irene, it should give pause, especially during this year’s COVID pandemic to be extremely grateful for Canada’s publicly funded health care system and the burden that is shared together.
“If it wasn’t for our health care system where would we all be with this COVID?”
While the hospital bill was paid through the health care program, there were a number of specialist appointments to follow in caring for her newborn son. Irene and Walter moved to Ontario and every month she sent off $25 dollars towards the outstanding bill. She recalls the doctor returned the last $25 installment, with appreciation for her timely payment of the $100 invoice.
Kenneth Tarling was born May 16, 1958. He was to be the first of three, including his sisters, Susan and Katherine, both born in Scarborough.
Walter worked for Nortel, a job that took the family to live in a number of Canadian communities – installing central offices and building telephone networks across the country. Irene would often find work as a file clerk with “Ma Bell.”
Moving to Grimsby in 1969, Irene recalls the family’s first drive into town. “The welcome to Grimsby sign read ‘Population 4,995’. There were five of us and the kids added it up and said ‘we’re going to make it 5,000’.”
It wouldn’t be too long before Irene brought her community spirit to the West Lincoln Memorial Auxiliary.
Now a volunteer for the past 40 years in medical records, it’s fair to say that every patient, or at least their file, has passed through her hands.
“The nurses think she came with the furniture,” jokes John Sedgwick.
Thoroughly checking information and filing patient records – accuracy and confidentiality her top priorities – Irene loves her corner of the hospital. Her friends say that’s just how she likes it – away from the limelight.
“Irene is a hard worker, gets the job done,” says Auxiliary member Maria Sedgwick.