Grieving mum hounded for $134 ambulance bill

By Jared Savage

A grieving mother has been hounded by debt collectors for ambulance bills totalling $134 only days after her 20-year-old son died.

Kathleen Lloyd is "disgusted" that Baycorp and St John called and wrote letters asking for two separate debts to be paid so soon after her son Alex Gordon died from an epileptic seizure in his sleep.

St John management have promised to apologise personally to Lloyd for the mix-up, and to wipe the debt, but Lloyd said it was "not about the money".

A chronic asthmatic and epileptic since his early teens, her son Alex had needed urgent treatment from St John ambulances several times while flatting late last year, and had failed to pay one $67 bill.

Three days after he died, Lloyd was at home preparing for the funeral when Baycorp debt collectors called asking to speak to Alex. "I said, 'No you can't, I'm his mother, can I help?' And they said, 'Oh, so he has passed away?"'

The debt collector asked for the account to be settled, so Lloyd asked for the paperwork for proof of the bill, to which Baycorp replied letters had already been sent to her son.

"At that point I went off my nut. I said, 'I'm his mother, he's dead, send the documentation."'

Two days later, Baycorp called back and spoke to Alex's 22-year-old sister, who was upset and "freaked out" by the demands.

"We're talking a sum of $70, it's not the money, it's the principle of the thing," Lloyd said.

A family friend rang St John to explain the situation and asked for more time, but days later the ambulance provider sent a second $67 bill for removing Alex's body from his flat.

"I just thought, give it a rest. He's only just died. In a month maybe, but I'm still grieving. How could I possibly settle an estate in that time?" Lloyd said.

"How come St John have to get so ruthless about money? They knew he was dead, and then I got a letter for the subsequent bill. It's disgusting."

Alex's death had come as a shock to friends and family, as the 20-year-old had been in good health, and had moved to a new flat in Mt Eden just four weeks before he died.

He volunteered in creches and was planning to study early childhood education as he had a "lovely way with littlies", said Lloyd.

Gary Salmon, St John regional operations manager, said he planned to apologise personally to Lloyd for causing the distress and would wipe the outstanding debt.

He admitted the situation should never have occurred but said the mix-up happened because of an unusual set of circumstances.

As Alex had moved house from Parnell, to Pt Chevalier, then to Mt Eden this year, the St John computer system failed to pick up the change of address, and therefore notify Baycorp that he had died. "We didn't connect they were the same person, so neither of us knew he had died.

"We've stopped it all now but that hasn't stopped the damage we've done," Salmon said.

In the case of the second $67 bill for removing Alex's body, the letter was automatically sent by computer to his estate, but Salmon said it was regrettable that his mother intercepted the bill.

He admitted the phone call from the family friend should have stopped the letter from being sent, and St John was considering more checks to prevent a repeat incident.

"It shouldn't have happened in the first place, that's the truth."

Baycorp's Australian legal counsel Eleanor McIntyre said that when debtors die, company policy dictated that death certificates were to be produced as proof, or other information was asked for before the file was closed.

"If there has been any misunderstanding in relation to this matter then we are more than happy to speak to the family and clear it up."

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