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Double Shock: Ambulance Bills Follow ‘Grove Evacuation

POTTSTOWN PA – It’s been several weeks since parents of more than 20 Pottsgrove Middle School students endured the shock of news that their children had become mysteriously sick during a choir practice, and were transported by ambulances to local hospitals while the school itself was evacuated. Now a second shock has hit those same families:

Double Shock: Ambulance Bills Follow 'Grove Evacuation

Business Manager Nester’s Jan. 16 letter to affected families. This image has been altered to exclude a recipient’s name and address

The ambulance bills.

Pottsgrove School District Superintendent Shellie Feola acknowledged Tuesday night (Jan. 22, 2013) she had heard from several parents who were surprised to learn they were being charged for what they considered a school emergency. The costs could run from several hundred dollars to $2,000 or more, depending on services provided and the distance students were driven, those familiar with ambulance billing estimated.

A letter sent last Wednesday (Jan. 16) to affected parents by district Business Manager David Nester encouraged families who received ambulance invoices to submit them to their health care insurance providers. Feola went a step further Tuesday, adding that the district’s insurer would cover any remaining ambulance costs, of up to $15,000, after the parents’ claim was processed.

Both the district’s own testers, and those from outside agencies, reportedly have concluded there was no physical cause for the illnesses suffered Dec. 13 (2012) by 22 students at the middle school on North Hanover Street.

The building was evacuated as a precaution, but hazardous materials responders said they found nothing in the school environment that might have caused the dizziness and fainting students experienced. The event was labeled as an attack of anxiety and panic, and Pottsgrove asked parents to assure their children the incident was an “isolated” one. School successfully resumed the next day.

During the following weeks, ambulance providers began sending out bills for services rendered to the affected students’ families. The process was slowed in part by the holidays, and by the fact that some ambulances that responded are operated by volunteers. The district began taking calls from surprised parents earlier this month, ultimately prompting Nester’s letter.

“It is the district’s responsibility to evaluate the need for medical attention and obtain that service promptly. Our nurses worked closely with the emergency personnel on site to make sure your child was properly cared for,” Nester’s letter said. “On the emergency form completed each year, parents authorize the District to obtain emergency treatment if it is deemed necessary. In addition, parents agree to assume the financial responsibility for these services,” it added.

The letter did not address how families who lacked any health insurance should handle their ambulance bills. According to Census Bureau 2011 statistics, they represent 16 percent of the national population; in the Pottsgrove incident, that could have been as many as four families. Feola’s announcement on the district’s added coverage potentially also offers them relief from some or all of the ambulance costs.

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Jan. 22 meeting):

Image from a scan of a Pottsgrove School District letter

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