RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – You’re in an emergency and need to get to the hospital. What do you do? An ambulance is the obvious answer, but it may no longer be the most popular.
Alane Cameron Ford does a lot of waiting for a ride to work. She’s a hospice chaplain and bereavement counselor working at hospitals across Central Virginia. But she’s temporarily unable to drive because of a medical condition.
“I have to use Uber and Lyft services to go and see my patients," Ford said. “I use it all the time. Sometimes I’ll see four or five drivers a day."
But lately, those drivers picking her up are a little more cautious.
“They think that I need to go to the hospital as a patient and so sometimes I have trouble getting a ride,” Ford said. “I know you’re out there and yet it will still say searching, searching, searching and finally when I do get a driver, the driver will come and they’ll look at me very carefully.”
Ford is seeing the side effects of a new phenomenon. According to this study by a University of Kansas professor and a San Diego doctor, there’s been a 7 percent drop in ambulance calls since Uber started up in hundreds of U.S. cities.
“There’s is not too much out here that I have not seen,” says Richmond-area Uber and Lyft driver Kirkland Charity Jr.
He’s been picking up passengers for nearly three years.
“I’ve probably done about a dozen trips,” Charity said.
He said he’s noticed an increase in the number of people he’s taking to hospitals for an emergency.
“It started out as just the flu, you know, flu-related stuff. College students that were out of the area. Then it got to a little bit more serious,” Charity said. “One where the young lady was in labor. That one made me really nervous.”
Kirkland says the reason for these calls for rides to the hospital is pretty clear – cost.
A Chesterfield man showed us his recent ambulance bills from Chesterfield Fire and EMS. He had two seizures and each time was taken to hospital in an ambulance. The first bill was for $624. The second trip was for $540.
“An ambulance is not just a vehicle," Ford said. “An ambulance is a vehicle with highly trained personnel, equipment, medicine that can save your life."
Chip Decker, CEO of Richmond Ambulance Authority, said in some cases, taking a ride-sharing service can be OK. However, certain situations require the service only an ambulance can provide.
“It’s the difference between being a passenger and being a patient,” Decker said. “In some cases it’s totally appropriate. Maybe they can go to a hospital, maybe they can go to urgent care or even their doctor. It’s an easy option when it’s not a true emergency. If you don’t know what’s going on, if it’s trauma, if it’s heart, if it’s head, you know, if it’s an altered level of consciousness, your ambulance is probably your best bet.”
As for Ford, she’ll keep waiting for her Ubers and Lyfts to work.
“I will continue to get weird looks every time I ask to go the hospital," Ford said.
Ride-hailing services free up emergency vehicles for those who need it the most. But if you have any doubt, any level of concern about your health emergency, trained professionals in an ambulance could save your life.