USF student with bruised leg forced to go to hospital in ambulance

ByMichael Finney and Randall Yip KGO logo
Thursday, May 23, 2019
17 year old forced to take ambulance to hospital
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After a 17-year-old student was transported to the hospital in an ambulance for a bruised leg, his parent was hit with $3,000 bill for half-mile ride to hospital - and she had no say in the matter.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If you're sending your child off the college for the first time this coming fall, there's something you should know: you have little say when it comes to a medical emergency involving your minor child.

Children under 18 have no right to decline ambulance service in an emergency- even for a non-life threatening injury. Absent a parent, paramedics have the final say.

Tristan Madriaga recalls the day an ambulance drove him from the University of San Francisco to the emergency room at St. Mary's Medical Center.

"I accidentally fell off my bed and hit my leg pretty hard on the chair below me because I had the top bunk," Tristan said.

The accident happened at this dorm. When Tristan's leg still hurt a week later, he mentioned it to a staff member at the dormitory.

"I jokingly said, I'm just going to go to the hospital, my leg doesn't really feel too good. They said 'Oh, don't worry. I'll call public health and safety. They can take you.'"

Paramedics applied a cold pack to his bruise and, before he knew it, he was being transported by King American Ambulance to the hospital. They told the then-17-year-old that because he was a minor, he had no choice.

"I was actually shocked. I don't think I said anything when they said that. I couldn't say no," said Tristan. "I was actually like I was star stricken. I didn't know what to do."

At the hospital, doctors put a wrap around his leg, gave him crutches and discharged him in stable condition.

Tristan's mom, Elena, expressed shock after receiving an ambulance bill for $3,000.

"I was outraged," said Elena Abueva. "I feel that I've been violated, number one. Two, I said my son is underage. They shouldn't have the authority to transfer him."

She feels King American Ambulance should have gotten her permission first. "At this point in time, Tristan was not in a life or death situation," she said.

USF tells us she is not the only one to complain about the policy about minors and ambulance transports. The Dean of Students, Shannon Gary, said the policy is a good one but needs more flexibility.

"It could be more clear that if the student is of sound mind, that a call should be done - should be given to the parent immediately," said Gary.

The drive from USF to St. Mary's Hospital is less than half a mile, making the $3,000 bill even more annoying for Tristan.

"When I heard it was about $3,000, I was shocked. I was like, wow, $3,000 for half a mile."

We contacted King American Ambulance. They told us this case falls under the implied consent standard. "In an absence of a parent, it's implied a normal person would want you to treat them," the company stated.

This implied consent standard is also used by the city of San Francisco.

USF says it often helps students in this situation to get medical costs reduced and offered to do the same for Tristan.

Tristan's insurance, Anthem Blue Cross, agreed to cover the entire cost of the ambulance ride.

"It felt nice. It felt good that they actually acknowledged it and said we will take care of this for you," said Elena.

We checked and the implied consent standard is one adopted by the vast majority of the country. If this concerns you, instruct your children to call you immediately if they are ever in this situation and put you on the phone with the paramedics.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.