WASHINGTON – A late ambulance that resulted in what’s been called a bill for nearly $800 has motivated tens of thousands of people to sign an online petition to drop the charge.
On the night Durand Ford Jr. called for an ambulance, dozens of D.C. firefighters – about one-fourth of the force that day – called out sick.
It was New Year’s Eve, and Ford’s 71-year-old father, Durand Ford Sr., was short of breath.
The first call for help came at about 1:26 a.m. A D.C. fire engine with a paramedic came to the scene, the D.C. Fire and EMS Department says, as well as a truck with firefighters trained as EMTs.
When a D.C. ambulance could not respond to the scene, D.C. called for assistance from Prince George’s County. A D.C. ambulance arrived before the Prince George’s ambulance, about 30 minutes after the first call, according to D.C. Fire and EMS.
Fire officials say Ford arrived via ambulance at the hospital at 2:26 a.m. But his condition was grave and he ultimately died.
The family was stunned and upset by the delay, but what followed only added to the exasperation: a bill for $780.
“Just to think that the D.C. Fire and EMS would send a bill for work and service that they did not provide is appalling and hurtful,” says Ford Jr. “This is an issue that should be important to everyone who lives in the District, who works in the District or who has a family member who lives in the District.”
However, D.C. fire officials say the notice was not a bill, but a notice requesting information and permission to file an insurance claim.
“Although this type of notice is a requirement of Federal law, the contractor responsible for filing insurance claims and ambulance billing changed the language used for such notices during December, 2012, without notifying the Department. The revised language of the notice was confusing and could be misinterpreted as a ‘bill,'” the department says in a statement.
After receiving complaints about the notices, the department says it has since told the contractor to stop sending them until the language can be updated.
An online petition took the family’s concern well beyond the Washington region. As of Wednesday night, more than 160,000 people signed the campaign on Change.org to drop the charges.
“It does lift the family’s spirits to know that people across the country have seen this tragedy and are engaged and concerned,” Ford Jr. says.