WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - When a call for help goes out, ambulance services respond even if the call for help is from the hospital parking lot. When Lori (who did not want her last name used) arrived at the emergency room with severe back pain she could barely move.
"I had sharp pains in my lower back," Lori said. "I saw some employees come out and I said is this where you park for emergency?"
Lori said the employees told her to stay put while they called 911 for help.
"I was in bad shape, but I'll tell you I was in worse shape when I got that bill," Lori explained.
Lori got a bill for an ambulance ride to nowhere. Basic life support cost $375, which is a minimum charge. Plus, almost $4 for mileage.
"If they actually drove a half mile they could have gone downtown and gotten a coffee," Lori said.
The ambulance service dropped the mileage charge, but it has to bill someone since it wheeled Lori into the hospital on a stretcher.
"I don't think it's right," Lori explained.
According to David Dyal, "This is a statewide issue."
Dyal is President of the Florida Association of EMS Providers. He says 911 calls from the hospital parking lot also hurt ambulance services.
"It's a demand on service for patients that could probably be handled just as well by the emergency department," Dyal explained.
These 911 calls also raise legal questions. Hospitals are required to help anyone within 250 yards of their campus.
"Generally it's a misunderstanding by the hospital staff. And when we get reports like that we work with the management of the hospital to do better training with their staff so they understand they are obligated to go outside the doors of the ER onto the campus and care for people on their campus," Dyal said. "No one does it intentionally. It's just primarily misinformation."
Dyal said it's not abuse of the system, but 911 is over utilized in certain communities.
Some hospitals inform their command center and nursing supervisor when a patient is sick and in the hospital parking lot. When the nursing supervisor arrives, the situation is assessed and it's determined if fire-rescue crews are needed to safely transport the patient or if the patient can be transported by emergency department staff.
Eventually, a judgment call is made. Sometimes it's unclear what's wrong with a patient. 911 is called when the patient needs to be transported safely to prevent further injury.
"If I knew then what I know now I would have refused it," Lori said.
Lori says even if that means crawling inside.
Lori drove herself to the hospital to save money, but emergency crews say you should reconsider. You may feel fine when you leave home, but who knows what may happen on your way to the hospital.
We contacted the hospital Lori went to, but it can't comment due to patient privacy rules.