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By Shannon Taylor
A Sharon woman is claiming her concerns against Priority Ambulance were not addressed when she alleged her long-time service animal was denied access for an ambulance ride from Union City to Jackson.
On July 28 at 1 a.m., Sharon resident Janeta Stark was transferred from BMH Union City hospital to Jackson General by Priority Ambulance Service. Richard Arnold was listed as her primary caregiver for the ambulance ride and Mikayla Mathis was listed as the transport driver.
Stark said the driver (Mathis) was kind and wonderful to her, and Arnold stayed in the back with Stark during the ride. It was Arnold who Stark said, “Should not be working for an ambulance service due to the way I was treated.”
Stark and her boyfriend, Mark Rollins, said that Arnold told Stark, “It is against Tennessee State law for animals to ride in an ambulance.” Stark and Rollins stated that they both told Arnold the dog, Ella, was a trained service dog.
Stark said Arnold reportedly refused the dog, claiming there was no room for the animal.
Stark said Ella weighs approximately 10 pounds. Both Stark and Rollins stated that Ella was well-trained, attentive, didn’t bite, jump or bark and obeyed all commands that Stark gave her. Stark said that all of the staff at the hospital in Union City were complimentary of her service animal and were “wonderful.”
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “Forbidding a person with a disability who uses a service dog from accessing a place, service, or another facility where the public is allowed to go would be considered an act of discrimination.” According to Tennessee laws, service dogs may go with their handler wherever the public can go with a few exceptions, such as a sterile hospital environment and religious organizations are exempt from service dog laws requiring access. An ambulance is listed as a place that a service dog cannot be denied.
Stark said when she was put on a gurney, her purse was given to Arnold for when she got on the ambulance. Stark claimed that Arnold rummaged through her purse, and she asked for her phone because she had an earpiece in, and her boyfriend was calling her. Stark then claimed that Arnold turned off her phone and told her that he didn’t have her purse. Rollins later stated that he was calling to tell Stark not to worry and that he was following right behind her.
Stark said that when she was enroute to Jackson she was very scared and upset to the point that she started choking and vomiting due to a restricted trachea, which is one of the things she says Ella helps her with: alerting to breathing problems.
Stark said she is unable to swallow properly due to being in a coma for four months with tubes in her throat. Stark added she is unable to drink anything unless she is sitting up completely and drinking through a straw.
While in the ambulance, Stark said she told Arnold she was choking and needed to sit up. She claims Arnold told her she wasn’t choking, and pushed her head back down to the point she vomited in her hair.
Stark said she and Rollins reported Arnold’s actions to the Vice President of Priority Ambulance Services, where she said it took over a month to get her records so she could get Arnold’s full name. Documents showed that the records weren’t sent to Stark until after she reportedly threatened to take the situation to a news outlet.
Stark also reached out to the CEO of BMH Union City Hospital, Skipper Bondurant, who said via email, “This is to confirm we have received all of your info and we have shared this information with Priority leaders. Priority has been in contact with you about the work they are doing on their policies when it comes to service animals, which has also been shared with us. They are working to develop guidelines for their teams that are respectful of patients’ ADA rights and are also considerate of their crew’s safety, the patient, and the service dog.”
Stark filed a formal complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health and Associate Director, Bill Christian who noted, “All complaints and investigations of Tennessee’s Health Related Boards are confidential until formal charges are filed.”
Priority Ambulance Services was contacted for comment and VP Marketing and Relations, Sharon Kraun noted, “Unfortunately, due to privacy rules, we are not able to comment.” Arnold was also unavailable for comment.
Stark’s total cost for the ambulance ride was $7,738.62. Stark said she hopes that the situation will be resolved and that her complaints will be taken seriously and, at the very least, required training on ADA laws and professionalism will be required for Arnold.