Private ambulances are operating illegally in Mexico City, colluding with local authorities to attend emergencies and charge for their services, the Mexico City government has learned.
Emergency response services are supposed to be provided exclusively and free of charge by the city using ambulances from the Red Cross, ERUM (the medical emergency and rescue squad) and the local health secretariat.
However, in an interview with the Milenio newspaper, C5 Command Center manager Idris Rodríguez Zapata revealed that private ambulances are obtaining “information that they shouldn’t have” and are using it to arrive at addresses where medical assistance has been sought via the 911 emergency number.
“We don’t send private ambulances that charge for services. We know that they exist and they are working illegally in the city. They hear of emergencies, respond to them and charge for their service. Emergency services can’t charge in this city, it’s prohibited.”
Rodríguez said Royal Medic and EuroMed were among organizations that operated ambulances in that way and warned that the practice was not without risk.
“We don’t know if these people are qualified, whether they have the required knowledge or if they are going to steal your belongings.”
When a 911 call for medical assistance is received, it is transferred to an emergency medical center from which the closest available ambulance is dispatched. Police are also notified.
Rodríguez ruled out that call information was being leaked from C5.
“It could be a police officer in the street, a tow-truck operator or someone from Civil Protection. We don’t know exactly how they do it but that information doesn’t come from here.”
When ambulances are detected as operating illegally, authorities consign them to impoundment lots but Rodríguez sees it as only a minor deterrent.
“They buy a new vehicle and start working with license plates from another state.”
One case to which an illegally operated private ambulance responded was that of 92-year-old Carlota in March.
A couple of months prior to the incident, Carlota required urgent medical attention for a near fatal event and on that occasion, a health secretariat ambulance attended. Her granddaughter Claudia described the paramedics as “kind, professional, patient and meticulous.”
However, the treatment provided by the private ambulance was very different.
Paramedics, who arrived at the same time as city police officers, pressured Claudia to authorize her grandmother’s transport to a hospital before they had even checked vital signs or made a preliminary diagnosis.
They mentioned the names of two doctors and said that the initial admission cost would be between 3,000 and 5,000 pesos (US $160-$267) although further costs would be incurred during the stay.
As Carlota had begun to feel better, Claudia rejected their offer to which a paramedic responded, “I’ll leave you our number in case she gets worse later . . . it’s Alpha Médica emergencies.”
Surprised, Claudia asked if they belonged to ERUM.
“No, we are a private company that supports the city government with ambulances and medical services. For this service the cost is 300 pesos.”
Claudia was left with no choice but to pay.
“Calling 911 for a medical or security emergency is to expose yourself to them making money out of your distress,” she said.
There are approximately 400 medical emergencies every day in Mexico City, to which the city government responds with 329 authorized ambulances and 44 ERUM vehicles.
Source: Milenio (sp)