HALIFAX -- New Brunswickers who need or have needed lung transplants are calling on the provincial government to do more to support them during critical times in their surgery as people who need the operation often have to spend months in Toronto or Montreal – leaving them struggling financially.

Donnie Ritchie was one of several lung transplant patients at a support lunch coordinated by the New Brunswick Lung Association on Saturday. The lunch is one of the few occasions in which patients –past and present – get a chance to meet face-to-face.

At the lunch there was a common topic being discussed – rent assistance for lung transplant patients who require prolonged stays out-of-province.

“$1,500 is not acceptable compared to all the other provinces,” says Ritchie, noting the $1500 in rent help New Brunswickers waiting for lung surgery are eligible to receive from Medicare and the Higgs government – compared to the $2,500 patients from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia are eligible to receive when they temporarily reside in Toronto or Montreal awaiting the procedure.

“I got extra-large lungs, and they told me I'd be waiting quite a while,” says Ritchie. “But luck had it I got them in three weeks.”

In 2014, Ritchie was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which his wife, Doreen, says diminished his quality of life dramatically.

“His breathing wasn't very good at all,” says Ritchie. “He could hardly walk across the kitchen floor without being out of air.”

Though he received new lungs fairly quickly, he was kept at Toronto General Hospital for nearly six months last year. Each month cost him $2500 in rent – forcing his family to dip into their savings to cover the difference and living expenses.

“It is a lot of extra money to make-up, and we had to do that,” says Ritchie of her husband’s costly stay. “But if that could be changed, it would be great.”

Gloria Lambert agrees. She has cystic fibrosis and recalls provincial rent help being $1,200 when she went for surgery in 2013. Lambert and her husband spent nearly a year in Toronto – costing them their home.

“We lost everything down here,” says Lambert. “When we came to New Brunswick, we had to start all over again.”

New Brunswick Lung Association director of health promotion and initiatives, Barbara Walls, says the organization is in talks with Medicare to increase rent support – hopefully matching contributions other maritime provinces make to those in need.

“I have full confidence in this government, that once they understand this situation they will look seriously into it,” says Walls.

Meanwhile, the New Brunswick Lung Association says it understands upping rent subsidies for lung transplant patients could take some time – noting changes in the past have taken years to complete.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Jessica Ng