An Edmonton woman faces a $600 bill for a 200-metre ambulance trip she took in Alberton, P.E.I., last month.
Crystal Martell says she fainted while at a pharmacy, so staff called 911. She regained consciousness just as emergency medical responders arrived with an ambulance.
Martell, who was five months pregnant at the time, says they assessed her vital signs but couldn't find anything wrong. They recommended she go to the hospital just in case, and offered her a ride.
At first, Martell says she declined the ride, but felt dizzy again when she stood up to leave. She says one emergency medical technician told her, "You're not going to make it to the door" and encouraged her to take the ambulance.
Martell, who was unfamiliar with the town, says the ambulance then took her to a hospital around the corner, 200 metres away. She says she expected to be charged about $150, the normal fee for residents in P.E.I.
"I knew there was some charge, but I was thinking even $150 is pretty steep for what just happened," Martell says about the moment she realized how close the hospital was.
Martell, her fiance Tyler Meaney and their two-year-old daughter were visiting family in Prince Edward Island after a trip to Nova Scotia, where Meaney had received cancer treatment.
Neither Martell nor her fiance have worked since September 2015 because of his cancer, so money was tight. She says they were braced for the $150 bill. Instead, the hospital charged $600 for the ride.
"I just assumed right away that it was a mistake," Martell said. "I just said, 'There's no way.' "
The $600 charge is specifically for people from outside of P.E.I., and similar out-of-province fees exist across Canada. The non-resident fee in Alberta is $585, in Nova Scotia it's $733 and in New Brunswick it's $650.
Martell says the emergency responders knew she was from Edmonton, but didn't warn her about the price. She says they also didn't tell her the hospital was 200 metres away.
"Had I known the hospital was that close and that we were going to get this bill ... I could have waited an extra five minutes until I felt better and walked across," she says.
Faced with medical bills for her fiance's cancer treatment and the cost of a second child, Martell says she now feels panicked.
"We're trying to make ends meet," she says. "There are so many bills that are adding up, and this was just totally unexpected. So it's quite overwhelming."
Martell isn't the first one to be surprised by out-of-province fees. An Ontario woman also received a $600 bill after a 60-kilometre ambulance trip to Charlottetown in 2011.
In a statement to CBC, Health P.E.I. wrote there's no record of Martell trying to contact Island EMS or Health P.E.I. about the bill. They say "Island EMS is committed to working with individuals and families who may be experiencing financial barriers to negotiate a reasonable payment plan if they cannot pay their bill in full when they receive it."