Harlingen Man Wants Right to Choose Ambulance Service

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HARLINGEN – A Harlingen man struggling with diabetes said he feels his medical rights are being violated. He's unhappy with the ambulance services he's getting but isn't allowed to get the services he wants.

Luis Oropeza said he goes to dialysis in Harlingen three times a week. Each session lasts about three hours.

He recently had both legs amputated and now requires an ambulance to take him to his appointments.

Oropeza said he quickly grew close to the medics with Vitalis, a transportation service out of McAllen.

"What I want is for (the medics) to arrive here and be happy, and be happy when they transport me," Oropeza said. "I used to ask them to be here at a certain time, and they said I just had to call them and tell them, 'be here at 1:30 or 15 till.'"

But that company isn't authorized to pick up patients inside city limits. Harlingen Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said there's been an ordinance in place since about 1980 that strictly prohibits it.

The ordinance states only ambulances with the South Texas Emergency Care Foundation can pick up patients throughout the city.

STEC Director of Transportation Services Rene Perez said it's a common measure by cities to reduce insurance fraud.

"The number one purpose is to protect the public from anything that may be construed as not being legal, per se," Perez said, "and of course, the city wants to know who is doing business in their city, so they can be responsible. That way they can be held accountable."

But Oropeza said since STEC stepped in to take him to and from his dialysis appointments, he's not happy, and even hesitant to go to his appointments.

"Ok, they said the ambulance is on its way - it took them 40 minutes!" Oropeza said. "What happened to that ambulance? I'm diabetic and I have to make sure I eat something, because if not my body gets shaky."

Perez couldn't comment specifically about Oropeza due to medical privacy laws. He said there are times when paramedics have to prioritize other calls.

"When you have an event – a major accident – sometimes you have to pull resources so you can address that emergency," he said. "And it's important that the community understands that because it could be them one day."

Perez also said paramedics can't pick up any patient from their appointments unless medical staff clears them first.

Any patient that isn't satisfied with services can address the issue with a supervisor or file a complaint with STEC.

The Harlingen city manager said the ordinance was amended about a year ago and it's unlikely it will change to allow private transportation services to operate in the city.

Not all ambulances are prohibited from the city of Harlingen. Gonzalez said ambulances bringing patients to hospitals or clinics in the city can stay with the patient and transfer them back.

He said other than that, any private transportation service operating without permission in the city can be fined by police. 


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