Guest Post by Lauren Ellerman of Frith & Ellerman Law Firm, P.C.

Imagine, you arrive at the nursing home to have lunch with your grandmother. When you walk into her room, she doesn’t recognize you and is begging for someone to help her. She says she is in pain, but she can’t tell you where or what happened. Suddenly she stops talking and loses eye contact.

You would immediately call for a nurse, and ask the nurse to call 911, wouldn’t you? Even though most of us are not trained healthcare providers we know when someone needs emergency medical treatment and to be seen in the hospital.

“Someone call 911” you shout, and in response a charge nurse says “I cannot call 911, only a doctor can do that and I have placed a call to our attending physician to get permission to call.”

Meanwhile, your grandmother remains in pain, not speaking, slipping away.

Many patient families have told us that when they requested an ambulance be called for their loved one in a nursing home, they have been given a similar explanation. “No, you can’t call. Only a doctor can call. A nurse doesn’t have that ability. We must wait.”

Is that even true, they ask us months later?

No, it is not true.

Anyone who has a phone, and can dial 911 can call for an ambulance. There are no laws or rules that regulate who has access to this public service.

The policies of these facilities, seems to be in response to Medicare’s unwillingness to pay for each and every ride to the emergency department. Understanding that Medicare won’t pay and a family may be upset about the bill, facilities have adopted internal policies regarding who can call 911, and when. Arguably, the facility is trying to save you the out of pocket costs. Practically speaking, it is a short-sighted policy, that often prevents timely medical care from being provided to someone with acute care needs.

So while it may be true that Medicare Part B will only pay for the ride to the hospital if a doctor orders or approves it what really matters is your loved one and whether they need immediate help. So, get out your cell phone, dial 911, give them the address and get them to the hospital.

Better to be safe than sorry.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.