A woman who suffered a health emergency while driving is “outraged” to be billed $645 by the City of Red Deer for the cleanup of her accident scene.
Erin Filer, who suffered a seizure in her vehicle March 25, said she already paid about $400 through her insurance for her ambulance ride to the hospital.
“Yesterday, I received a second bill from the city. It says it is a ‘motor vehicle collision response fee,’” she said this week.
“I thought, is this for real?” added the Red Deer day-home provider, who considers it “totally outrageous and unacceptable.”
Filer feels her property taxes should cover these costs.
But when she contacted the city’s accounts receivable department, she was told a bylaw was enacted two years ago that allows residents to be billed for taking up the time of emergency services staff.
“Apparently, our taxes only cover emergency services to be ready to go — not to actually use them,” said Filer. “Maybe just drug addicts use them for free…”
She questioned if the two-year-old bylaw was actually meant to compensate the city for all the overdose calls that ambulance crews respond to — but can’t collect on — during the opioid crisis.
“Billing tax-paying citizens outrageous amounts just because they need help is awful…”
Filer said her seizure was caused by a yet-undiagnosed health condition that she had no control over.
The accident happened on 76th Street nearly three months ago, near her home in the Red Deer Village (Northwood Estates) mobile home park.
Filer had just dropped her daughter off at school and was driving her son back home when she blacked out. Her vehicle plowed into a parked car.
Her son was uninjured, but Filer sustained facial bruising and some tooth damage after her head hit the steering wheel.
Her insurance company wanted to close the accident claim, but Filer asked to keep it open until she submits a dentistry bill. Without this request, Filer said the file would be closed and she would have been stuck paying the $645 out of pocket.
“Who sends a bill three months later?” she questioned.
That shouldn’t have happened, according to Red Deer’s deputy fire chief, John Gelinas, who noted bills should be sent out within 30 days.
He explained that Alberta Health Services sets the amount charged for ambulance trips. But as of 2017, the city additionally charges residents for any kind of fire crew response, including the cleanup of fluid or debris at an accident scene in order to make the roads safe for other motorists.
Property taxes pay for the EMS infrastructure, including the city’s fire halls, personnel training and equipment. But residents who actually use the services can be additionally charged for the time it takes fire crews to respond and take whatever action is needed at an emergency scene, he said.
Galinas acknowledged AHS and the city can’t collect from some people without insurance, an income or even an address. But attempts are always made to bill everyone, whenever possible, including overdose victims.
“We treat everybody equally,” added Galinas, who stressed the EMS response fee bylaw was not enacted to compensate the city for the increased cost of responding to overdoses. The point was to help cover the full cost of emergency services.
Galinas said he sympathizes with Filer’s health emergency: “It’s not like we’re going after people with health conditions.”
Anyone without insurance who would have trouble paying a bill can appeal the charges to the city.