Ambulance freeloaders possibly putting your health at risk

SCOTT COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - Have you ever had to call for an ambulance? Was it for an actual emergency?

The truth is there is a growing number of people who are abusing the system and they could be putting your health at risk.

Most of the time the caller on the other end has a real emergency, but surprisingly some of the calls are for people complaining of a headache. Sometimes they just need a ride to get from one place to another.

It's happening more often than you might think. These people are known as "ambulance freeloaders," people who call again and again.

"Most employees could probably name you an address they go to on a frequent basis," said Larry Chasteen, Administrator, North Scott County Ambulance District. "It's the same people over and over with the same complaints."

It's busier than ever at the North Scott County Ambulance District.

When the economy tanked, the ambulance district's volume increased. More people are unemployed and fewer have health insurance.

"A lot of these people are on state aid, said Chasteen. "You do get some with no insurance at all."

In many cases, these customers are not paying a dime. Which Chasteen says can lead to, "Abuse-people who call us who don't need us."

The same thing is happening in emergency rooms.

"We still continue to treat a high number of patients everyday," said Angela Selzer-Southeast Health Family Nurse Practitioner.

According to the 2010-2011 annual report for Southeast Health, the majority of payments for patient services came from Medicare and Medicaid. Many patients are using the emergency room as their doctor's office.

It's clogging the ER, but by law the hospital can't turn anyone away.

"We treat everyone seriously," said Selzer.

It's the same situation for ambulance districts.

"We can't refuse to take them so either way we've got to get them to the hospital," said Chasteen. "It's kind of like the crying wolf thing. They may have called five times, but that sixth time may be a true medical emergency."

The problem is though, these "free loaders" could be putting your health at risk.

"It puts us in a difficult position because it ties up an ambulance for someone who needs it," said Chasteen.

While they're seeing an increase in patients, their revenue is the same and so is the number of staff.

"It can cause crew burnout as they get tired of the same thing, for headache calls at two in the morning," said Chasteen.

Emergency crews say for as many cases of ambulance abuse that they almost see an equal amount of people who should be calling for help and don't.

Hospitals would recommend everyone has a primary care provider, someone who knows your history and can help you decide whether you need an ambulance.

It could save your life or someone else's.

So what can be done? Some want to see stronger regulations, possibly legislation cracking down on those who abuse the system.

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