Medics call for change in ambulance practices

CARE Ambulance was involved in a March 5 incident that was questioned.

INDIANAPOLIS - Central Indiana medics are calling for change, speaking out for the first time about a secret practice that allows nursing homes to call hired help miles away, instead of 911 in life and death emergencies.

13 Investigates uncovered the death of one Indianapolis woman, who medics now say was caught up in a run for money.

"More runs, more runs, more runs, that's the pressure," one Medic told 13 Investigates, about the pressure private ambulance companies are facing.

Out of the darkness, EMTs and paramedics from across Indiana are breaking their silence to shed light on a secret practice they have detested for years. They don't want to show their faces out of fear of losing access to the jobs they love.

"You do very much have to play the game in this industry or you won't last," the medic said, explaining why the practice has remained hidden for so long.

"People need to know what these companies do. How they think and how they run on a daily basis," added a second emergency responder.

They're outraged at what 13 Investigates uncovered: Some nursing home staff failing to call 911 in life and death emergencies. Instead, they're calling private ambulance companies miles away.

Inside sources say it's cost more than one patient their life.

"I waited there until they took Barbara to the hospital. I was there pretty close to an hour," said 82-year-old Elsie Britton. She was speaking of the night her best friend went into cardiac arrest at Kindred Healthcare's Wildwood nursing home on the east side of Indianapolis.

"They didn't call an ambulance for Bud, either, I had to fight to get it," Greenfield resident Wanda Thurman told 13 Investigates, days after hearing about what happened in Indianapolis.

Untimely Responses

At issue: Untimely responses

Thurman says nursing home staff told her an ambulance was on the way for her husband, Bud, who had a history of bleeding. A therapist reported he was weak and "breathing hard."

After three hours of waiting, Wanda finally demanded to make the call herself. Instead of 911, she was given the number to the nursing home's private company. Her husband finally got to the hospital, but bled to death hours later.

"He turned real cold and he reached over and threw me a kiss and closed his eyes and died," Wanda said, with emotion welling up.

"I just can't believe that she's gone," said Elsie Britton, feeling the loneliness of losing Parcel, whom she said was like a sister.

The deaths have left too many unanswered questions at Kindred Healthcare. 13 Investigates went to the company's Wildwood nursing home in Indianapolis to talk with management. Newly-appointed administrator Phillip Benson escorted us out the door.

"You have to leave the property. This is private property. I can't talk to you," he said.

Indiana State Department of Health Investigation

But a newly released complaint of patient neglect - investigated and "substantiated" by the Indiana Department of Health - now confirms what 13 Investigates uncovered the night Barbara Parcel died.

According to a whistleblower, at 8:15 p.m. on March 5, CARE ambulance got a call from Kindred's Wildwood nursing home of an "unresponsive" resident. He says he "informed dispatch he was in Avon, 20-30 minutes away."

Medics say that's where the private ambulance company messed up.

"The dispatcher, at that point, should have immediately said for the patient safety, we can't help you. Call 911 and that should have been the end of it," explained one of the medics who has worked for various private ambulance services.

But CARE scrambled a crew from its headquarters west of downtown, still some 20 minutes away from Barbara Parcel's bedside, instead of calling 911 to get a paramedic from Station 43, which was less than five minutes away.

The whistleblower told the state health department he "heard Kindred staff did not want to call 911."

911 vs. Private Ambulance

"We were told that if they called 911 "X" amount of times, they got dinged for it," added the second medic.

The top investigator for the State EMS Commission, a paramedic himself, isn't surprised at nursing homes not calling 911. But he says it's to avoid unnecessary disruptions brought by fire trucks and firefighters, not the threat of increased scrutiny by state or federal agencies.

"I don't think there's any trigger that causes them to be looked at any more closely if they're using a 911 service versus a private service," Archer told 13 Investigates.

Medics who have and are working behind the wheel of private ambulances tell 13 Investigates there's another driving force.

"Unfortunately, private services, more at the management level, are so money driven, so hungry for being for-profit companies, that they will do everything in their power to not turn the run, in order to be able to bill the run for themselves," the medic explained.

Both say nursing homes are big money makers for private ambulance companies, but the business arrangement shouldn't take priority in emergencies like Barbara Parcels.

"They did it to avoid losing the run. They did it to avoid losing the dollars and that becomes the frustrating thing," said one medic.

"When someone has to die unnecessarily, because of somebody else wanting the dollar. It really bothers you and it makes you want to try to change things, which is why I agreed to do this," said the other, with the hope that lawmakers will take a closer look.

No Rules for Calling 911

The State Department of Health substantiated the complaint against Kindred's Wildwood Healthcare, but investigators found no deficiencies during a nursing home inspection days later.

In a letter mailed to the complainant, the Department of Health said, "Each concern of your complaint was investigated. The evidence failed to support a violation of Federal or State regulation. This does not mean that your complaint was unjustified, simply that there was not sufficient supporting evidence to substantiate a violation of Federal or State Regulations at the time the surveyors were present in the facility."

The case was then sent to the Attorney General's office. Based on 13 Investigates' findings, the EMS Commission is now also investigating.

The bottom line is, there are no rules requiring nursing homes to call 911 in life or death emergencies.