Woman accused of using ambulances for free rides

Live 5 investigates: Woman accused of using ambulance for taxi service
Published: Apr. 25, 2013 at 2:10 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2013 at 3:14 PM EDT
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DORCHESTER COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A Live 5 News investigation has uncovered alleged ambulance abuse in Dorchester County.

The Dorchester County Sheriff's Office says 51-year-old Audrey Ferguson of the Dorchester community has called EMS at least 100 times in the last seven years.

Investigators say Ferguson was faking illness, just to get a free ride to downtown Charleston.

Officials say just about every time she asked to be taken to a hospital.

"She'll have a vague medical complaint, for instance abdominal pain," said Dorchester County EMS Director Doug Warren. "She has medical complaints that are legitimate, and so until she's been evaluated and determined not to be sick we have to assume she is."

Soon medics saw a disturbing pattern and got suspicious.

Ferguson apparently never even went into the hospital to get treated.

Instead she told hospital officials she was okay and left.

"We transport her to one of the area hospitals and then oftentimes before we can get our paperwork completed she's signed out from the hospital and gone on to do other things," said Warren.

Warren called the sheriff's office and asked for an investigation.

The detective assigned to the case said he wanted to be contacted the next time Ferguson called for an ambulance.

On Apr. 2, investigators said Ferguson's free rides came to an end. A Dorchester County deputy was waiting at Trident Medical Center for an ambulance carrying Ferguson.

According to an incident report, he heard her call her son, saying she needed a ride. He also heard her tell a nurse that she wasn't ill, that she was actually feeling fine and that she was leaving.

Ferguson did leave...in handcuffs.  She was taken to the Dorchester County jail.

On the way to jail, Ferguson told a deputy why she called for an ambulance so many times.

According to the incident report, Ferguson said she didn't have a car and this was the only way she had to get around and Medicaid paid for it anyway. It was part of her benefits.

And all of those ambulance trips taken by Ferguson?

Each one costs $425, plus mileage.

Officials say what Medicaid doesn't pay, taxpayers will have foot the rest of the bill, more than $400,000.

Warren says taxpayers should be angry. "Absolutely, and that's part of the investigation that's ongoing with the sheriff's office," he said.

Warren has one other big worry.

"That truck from Harleyville is tied up responding to this situation where we appear to have abuse of the system, that may delay our response to someone that has a more significant or more pressing need and it concerns me."

Ferguson is charged with unlawful use of 911 and filing a false police report. The investigation is continuing.

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