Paralyzed man spared hefty air ambulance bill
LONDON, Ont. -- He lived in a wheelchair in the shadow of a $27,800 tab charged by a London hospital to fly him home by air ambulance to British Columbia.
Brent Worrall had fallen from the heights of a one-time Canadian motocross champion -- the same sport brought him crashing down in August 2010 near London.
Paralyzed from the chest down, he was treated for eight days at London Health Sciences Centre, then flown home to a hospital by Ornge air ambulance.
The mammoth tab would follow and B.C.'s health minister would take up his cause.
But it wasn't until QMI Agency asked probing questions Wednesday that the London hospital reversed course and agreed to pay the bill.
"Upon further review, it became evident that conflicting information may have been shared regarding payment. As a result, (the hospital) is assuming the costs of the air transport for Mr. Worrall. We apologize to Mr. Worrall and his family for this misunderstanding," hospital spokesperson Tony LaRocca wrote.
"I'm a happy man today," Brent Worrall told QMI Agency from Vancouver, where he's in rehabilitation.
"To know we're not going to pay this is going to make life a little more normal."
His family in Vernon, B.C., he said, already faces extra costs as a result of his paralysis and his wife has been working hard to keep a roof over their heads.
The crash happened August 18, 2010, while he was competing at the Walton motocross race in Seaforth -- the biggest motocross event in Canada. Worrall said he'd trained all year for the race and described it as his "grail."
He got a bad start among the 37 riders, but was quickly passing them.
When he approached the first jump, Worrall said he knew he was going a bit too fast and adjusted himself in the air. But before he knew it, his fender was heading for the ground and Worrall knew he was going to crash.
"I just said to myself, 'Survive Brent. Survive,'" he recalled.
Worrall flew almost 140 feet and broke nearly every bone below his neck. His heart stopped four times.
The last thing he remembers before waking up in a London hospital about four days later was being loaded into an air ambulance from the race track. He was flown from Seaforth, Ont., to London -- a $2,040 tab Worrall said he was also billed, but hasn't paid.
In London, he was told he wouldn't be physically able to fly for about three weeks.
But on the seventh day, a social worker said a flight had been arranged to fly out the following day.
"Red flags went up," said Worrall, because he was still in a medically fragile state. The social worker assured him it was a special medical flight and when he told her he couldn't afford it, the social worker assured him it would be taken care of.
About a month later, Worrall and his wife received the $27,800 bill -- one that shocked even the social worker, he said, when his wife e-mailed her to ask why they were being charged.
"Every day it ate at me and definitely prevented me from putting my best foot forward," said Worrall, still in a rehabilitation centre. He's been away from his family for much of the past seven months.
B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong protested the charge this week and was pleased when the hospital changed course.
"I'm grateful the review took place," he said.
The situation, he added, brings to light two important issues.
First, that people involved in health-care delivery communicate with patients in a meaningful way so they understand what's happening and what their choices are, de Jong said.
"This appears to be a case of confusion that has significant implications," he said. "Most of us, unless we're wealthy, are unable to absorb a $30,000 air ambulance fee. You can't unilaterally impose that kind of fee on someone."
The second issue, de Jong said, is that while Canada has universal health care, that coverage doesn't extend to transportation between provinces.
As for Worrall, he said it's as if a medicine ball has been lifted from his body.
"I'm very happy that what they (the London hospital) said they were going to do, is going to be done. I'm just distraught it took as long as it did."