A Lewis County couple suffered sticker shock when a bill arrived in the mailbox recently.
The ambulance company AMR charged Paul Smale and Wilma Mullins-Smale $1,087 for an ambulance ride that never left the grounds of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“I thought maybe it was some sort of scam,” Smale said.
The couple pieced together that AMR was charging them for the short-hop that brought Smale in from Harborview’s heli-pad after he crashed on his bicycle near his home in Randal, Wash.
The flight by Airlift Northwest cost nearly $30,000. The Smales accept the cost of the flight that might have saved Smale’s life.
But they’re having a hard time understanding the thousand-dollar charge for an ambulance that carried Smale a few hundred feet.
“You’re landing at a trauma center hospital and now the patient has to pay for an ambulance to pick you up there are drive you from the hospital maybe a half a block – just around the corner. That’s pretty crazy,” Mullins-Smale said.
A Harborview spokesperson acknowledged that they have heard complaints from patients and their families over the years about the ambulance bills. But she says other options to move critical patients safely from the heli-pad to the emergency room hasn’t worked.
Another complaint the Smales have: Smale’s accident occurred four years ago. They wonder why it took AMR so long to send them a bill.
AMR could not immediately provide a comment on the Smales' bill. A spokesperson said he was researching the case.
Mullins-Smale, who is a nurse, understands the sometimes high cost of medicine, but she feels the ambulance fee places an unfair burden on people who are already suffering.
“I’m trying to figure out how to fix the problem, so it doesn’t happen to other people," she said.