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Don’t Be Afraid To Call For An Ambulance!

EASTERN MADERA COUNTY — When I began having chest pains and shortness of breath last Monday evening, I didn’t immediately grab the phone and dial 911. I grabbed my computer and started Googling symptoms of heart attacks in females, in an effort to judge whether this really was an emergency, not knowing if my insurance would pay for the ambulance.

That is not only sad, it could have been fatal, because those 40 minutes of indecision could have actually been the difference between life and death. However the stark reality is that I am not alone. How many of us make critical health care decisions based on our financial realities in times of crisis?

My incident happened at 8:20 p.m., and I finally did pick up the phone just before 9 o’clock and made that call to 911, if only to spare my poor husband a long sleepless night or the horrible outcome of finding me in the morning… well… not so well.

As someone who has to listen to the constant chatter of the police/fire scanner every waking (and some sleeping) hour, it was surreal to hear my address and info dispatched over the airwaves, wait for those red swirling lights to come rolling up my driveway, and say hello to the first responders I have come to admire and respect so much over the past four years.

Cal Fire Engine 4255 arrived first from Rancheria Station, which is only about two miles from my house. It was so gratifying to see them carrying in that AED (Automatic External Defibrillator), provided to the Rancheria by the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary of which I am a member, that was used to save the life of my friend Mike Nolen back in October.

The AED was given to Rancheria when the Auxiliary purchased new ones for Madera County Fire Station 11. We then voted in December to purchase a second AED for Rancheria, even though they are a Cal Fire station, and we raise money to support the County firefighters. I made the argument at our meeting that when someone calls for help, they don’t care which agency’s emblem is on the door of that engine, they only care that those first responders have everything they need to save a life. The group agreed, voting unanimously to ensure that both Rancheria Cal Fire engines had this vital equipment.

But I digress…  back in my living room on Monday evening, Engineer Daniel Strickland and Firefighter Tim Ayuso took my vital signs and assessed my condition in the minutes before Sierra Ambulance arrived. I had hoped that the paramedics would determine that all was well, and be on their way to helping other patients who were in more dire need of their skills. But that was not to be. The EKG showed something that concerned paramedics Joel Shipp and Michee Baggett, and I was encouraged in very polite but in-no-way uncertain terms that I needed to be transported to the hospital for further testing. This was nothing to be messing around with.

This was the point at which I was exceedingly grateful for my 70 pound weight loss over the past year, largely inspired by the thought of this very situation in which emergency responders would have to hoist my substantial bulk onto a gurney and into the back of an ambulance. Though I still have a way to go, every little bit helps — not only me, but also those doing the heavy lifting!

My argument that my husband could drive me to the ER (still stressing about the cost) was met with the very common sense reply that if something happened on the way down the hill, I would just have to call them again, only delaying further availing myself of any treatment.

Sierra Ambulance units are emergency rooms on wheels, and with the nearest emergency room many miles away, we are blessed to have them. My condition was continuously monitored, I was given nitroglycerin, and had a very nice chat with Michee on our trip down the hill. The decision to take the trip in the ambulance proved to be a wise one when we encountered the construction delays on Highway 41 near the 22 Mile House. I was comfortably ensconced in an emergency “facility” with trained professionals should I suffer a further episode.

Upon arriving at Kaiser’s emergency room, Joel and Michee stayed with me until I was provided a bed and hooked up to even more and bigger gizmos, and checked in. And we all know how time screeches to a halt once that happens, but that’s not what this story is about…

After being released from the hospital late Tuesday, I went home and slept for about 14 hours straight — as it is impossible to sleep in a hospital, what with all the testing and questioning and poking and stabbing and accompanying insults to one’s body — and the following day, I picked up the phone and called Sierra Ambulance to become a member. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do forever, but as is the case with so many things, it just kept getting shoved to the back burner as life happens.

I don’t yet know how much my insurance will pay, and what my copay will be for the ambulance ride, but I do know that the total bill for such a service is about $2,500. Now that may cause one to gasp, and it certainly may cause one to do what I did and resist making the call when facing a crisis. Foolishness!

A membership in Sierra Ambulance is just $65 a year, and covers the entire part of your bill not paid by your insurance provider. Sierra Ambulance will also fight for you if your insurance company declines to pay for the service.

While the $2,500 charge may seem like a lot, it doesn’t just cover what it costs to respond to your home and take you down the hill or over to Mariposa, it is part of the broader expense of keeping three ambulances fully staffed with an EMT and a Paramedic, 24 hours a day in three locations, and three more units standing by to staff up as needed.

Your membership is good for everyone living in your household. So in my case, that’s 9 cents a day for myself, and 9 cents for my husband. Seriously. If there are four people in your home…  well you can do the math. And if you never have to use it, you are supporting a non-profit organization made up of some of the most dedicated, hard working, professional people you will ever encounter. Your membership, if you never need avail yourself of the service, will go toward maintaining the highest level of emergency response service for your friends, family and community. Most importantly, it removes the kind of stress I suffered while vacillating about making the call to ask for help.

So I picked up the phone and called 559-642-0650, and the very gracious Cindy James took my information and credit card payment right on the spot. My membership started the next day. I estimate my copay to Kaiser for my ambulance ride will be about $200 — and that’s likely on the lower end of the scale for most plans. I could have had three years of service and peace of mind for the same price.

Medicaid reimburses only about $600 for a transport to the valley, and MediCal only about $300, leaving Sierra Ambulance to absorb the balance.

As a non-profit corporation, all of the revenue raised by Sierra Ambulance is used 100 percent to support the operation of the Service. Key to their financial sustainability is the Family Membership Program. Why should you join if you have insurance? Simply, many insurance plans have a deductible, a co-pay, or a maximum benefit well below the actual cost of service. Likewise, many insurers look backward after the fact and determine whether or not the ambulance was justified. Your claim could be denied. Your membership would cover you in this case. The membership program provides a benefit to those who may need its coverage; it also helps Sierra raise money to purchase new ambulances and equipment.

This is not a commercial for Sierra Ambulance. Sierra News Online was created to tell people’s stories and celebrate those who make a difference in our communities. I try never to miss an opportunity to do that, or to share about things that may improve your quality of life. After Mike Nolen’s heart attack while riding his bike last October, SNO organized a CPR class, provided free of charge by the amazing Bill and Gina Hartley of Minarets Medical Education. Bill has served for nearly two decades as a paramedic at Sierra Ambulance, and he and Gina teach CPR and First Aid to anyone who asks. If you or your group are unable to make your schedule work with the Hartley’s, just call Sierra Ambulance to inquire about CPR training.

So to wrap this thing up, on Thursday I visited Dr. Dan (O’Meara) my most fabulous doctor at the Oakhurst Kaiser facility, who reviewed my test results and confirmed that I had indeed experience a mild cardiac episode. After hearing once again his cajoling about life-style changes, I am dusting off the treadmill and doing my best to find time for it on my calendar. Doing my best…

There are a couple things you can do right now to help others help you. We’re all in this together!

  • Call Sierra Ambulance at 559-642-0650 to sign up for your membership, and then relax.
  • Make a donation to your local fire department auxiliary, and attend all their fundraisers to ensure our firefighters have everything they need. The life you help to save may be your own!

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Sierra News Online

Sierra News Online