New Waterford’s mobile care unit has responded to just 62 calls since it started in September, and part of the reason may be that some potential patients fear being billed for an ambulance.
"They’re afraid to call because they can’t afford the ambulance," says Claire Kearney, whose mother was recently a patient.
The mobile unit was set up to provide overnight care at the homes of people with less urgent health issues. It has a nurse and paramedic, and a physician available online.
It’s supposed to be free, but Kearney's mother, Louisa Ranson, was billed $142.
"I get exactly $700 a month," said Ranson, who is 84 years old. "That’s to pay my oil, to pay my lights, to pay every bill I owe."
Her family called the unit when she was sick with flu. An ambulance was also dispatched, in case it was needed. Ranson’s condition worsened and she was taken to hospital.
Brochures from the Cape Breton District Health Authority say patients won’t be charged for the unit, nor for an ambulance if mobile unit staff decide one is needed.
The collaborative emergency centre said it’s likely a mistake that Ranson was billed.
"It’s like any system," said Sonny MacPherson, a collaborative centre representative. "There are going to be bugs at the beginning, but I think they will be worked out."