EMS bills baker for 'abusing' lifting services
Hillsboro cookie maker Martin Fent would have to sell about 10,000 Uncle Marty’s Cookies to pay a $2,000 debt he racked up for his alleged “abuse” of “assist only” ambulance calls to Marion County Emergency Medical Services.
Fent doesn’t have 10,000 cookies and or anything else with which to pay the bill.
His bill stems from a number of ambulance runs where EMTs and firefighters assisted him back into his wheelchair after he had fallen.
Correspondence provided by Fent from EMS said “assist only” runs were billed $400 each after two free runs within a 60-day period.
Fent, however, did receive a couple extra gratis runs since his calls happened so close together.
“Insurance companies do not pay for this type of ambulance call,” an EMS letter said, “They consider them ‘not medically necessary’.”
EMS informed him that “assist only” bills were his responsibility to settle, and Fent said sometimes bills came with “nasty little notes.” Letters said his bill was a result of his “abuse” of “assist only” calls.
“I’m sure there are people who do abuse the service, but I was in no way abusing it,” Fent said. “I informed them of my extenuating circumstances and I understand the policy, but I don’t understand them accusing me of continuing to ‘abuse’ their service.”
Michelle Avis owns the house Fent lives in and is his former girlfriend.
“Are you supposed to be scared of pushing your [Life Alert] button,” Avis said. “What about elderly people? I have an aunt who uses the service, too. The people on the phone say, ‘if you ever need anything just push your button.’”
Fent understood that every time EMS provided him an “assist only” call, they couldn’t take other calls, but said he had no other options at the time.
Charges amassed after he made five calls to EMS June and four more in August.
On Sept. 30, a letter from EMS Interim Director JoAnn Knak echoed previous correspondence reminding him, “The balance due is your responsibility.”
“If we have not received a payment and a call to set up a payment schedule by Oct. 14, 2014, we will be prompted to take a more aggressive step in collection of this bill.”
To Fent, the bills and letters were an additional source of anxiety on top of daily struggles.
Fent has Friedrich’s Ataxia, a rare and debilitating disease known to damage the peripheral nervous system.
FA affects the spine and cerebellum, the part of the brain that synchronizes balance and movement, and as a result, Fent cannot stand or walk.
Although FA confines him to a wheelchair, he regularly walks his dog Oatmeal, an energetic Border collie mix a friend gave to him after rescuing it from a shelter.
“Oatmeal is friends with everybody,” Fent beamed. “He always tries to hug people.”
Between June and August, Fent said the dog’s affable exuberance was too much for a loaner wheelchair he used temporarily.
“Sometimes Oatmeal got excited and accidentally pulled me over because the chair’s suspension was too soft,” Fent said. “I ended up on my hands and knees with the chair on my back several times.”
Fent’s condition also prevents him from lifting himself, which is one reason he uses a “Home Buddy” Life Alert Button.
“I always made sure to tell them that I wasn’t injured and that I just needed help getting up,” Fent said. “They always asked if I had anyone to call, but I didn’t have anyone.”
Avis said the loose suspension on his previous chair caused him to fall several times while not walking Oatmeal.
Fent weighs about 250 pounds and his chair weighs about 300 pounds, she said. At times, she tried to help him despite being on a 10-pound lifting restriction.
“I’m on disability, too,” she said. “I don’t want to put myself at risk.”
Since Fent had no available assistance, “Home Buddy” contacted EMS.
After one call, Fent said an EMS woman told him he should get rid of his dog, but he refuses to ditch Oatmeal.
After August calls, Fent obtained a new chair with appropriately calibrated suspension, and now he has friends living nearby that can help.
Fent said he recently spoke with new EMS director Brandy McCarty, but did not enter into a payment agreement because he wants to speak to the EMS board about his predicament in hopes of alleviating charges.
“She graciously told me that we could put everything on hold until the January meeting,” Fent said.
McCarty was contacted for this article, but did not respond by press time.
Last modified Dec. 4, 2014