These are the two things every traveler wants and expects when they sign up for travel protection services. They may never have an injury or illness requiring emergency assistance but they always want the peace of mind that should come with promised services.
Unfortunately, not all travel risk management providers are the same. Some are more expensive. Others provide limited services. Still, others have a variety of restrictions. Worst of all, some delay or deny services under a muddle of tedious paperwork or bureaucratic double-talk.
Not All Protection Services Are Equal
When Nan and Gary Stone decided to vacation in Italy, they thought they had solid, emergency medical evacuation travel protection with an Arizona-based company promising 24-hour locator service to quickly find a doctor wherever you are, emergency medical monitoring by a medical expert to make sure you get the appropriate care in a medical emergency, a medical specialist sent to you, and emergency medical evacuation to get you to a more appropriate hospital if needed.
They were wrong.
“After spending ten days on the Amalfi Coast, my husband and I planned to spend several days in Naples before heading home to North Carolina. We’re fairly active for our age and have travelled to more than 26 countries on our own. One morning, Gary started having heart trouble,” said Nan Stone.
The couple was in their hotel in Italy and Gary Stone, a veteran anesthetist with a good working knowledge of medical symptoms and what they mean, started feeling ill. “He was losing color in his face. His heart rate was very high. After talking about it for a while he wasn’t getting any better so he said he needed medical help,” she said.
Nan contacted the hotel front desk and alerted them to what was happening. They summoned emergency services. When the paramedics arrived, their conduct was unlike anything the Stones had ever seen.
“They were pushing and shoving furniture and equipment around the room, yelling at each other. It was crazy,” she said.
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That’s when the Stones decided to call their emergency medical services provider based in Arizona and explain the situation.
It was November 2021 and Italy was open to international travelers who were fully vaccinated and had a negative entry test. “If you cannot show proof of immunization or a recent recovery, you will need to self-isolate for five days and get a follow-up diagnostic test to exit quarantine,” according to Forbes. The Stones were fully vaccinated and met the requirements.
It was a surprise for the Stones when the emergency assistance company call center representative said they couldn’t send a physician to the hotel because of the COVID situation. Nan Stone contacted hotel management for help and they identified two doctors to come to the hotel and assist with her husband’s medical evaluation.
“Those two physicians determined my husband had to go to the hospital,” she said.
No Help During a Pandemic
While her husband was at the hospital, she made more calls to the emergency assistance company pleading for help with the medical emergency her husband was suffering.
“They said I had to fill out all sorts of paperwork first, which I did. Then they told me they couldn’t send a doctor to the hospital because of the COVID situation. I let them know I was able to get two doctors to come to the hotel. I pressed them to explain why they couldn’t get a doctor to the hospital to help my husband. They said they would have to get back to me. Then they sent me more paperwork to complete. I felt like I filled out paperwork for days. But I did it.”
After a little more than a day, the hospital doctors notified her that Gary was ready to be released. She notified her emergency assistance company. They said her husband can’t leave the hospital until they send a doctor to evaluate him.
“I reminded the emergency assistance company they had twice denied sending a doctor for my husband due to COVID. I was fed up. I went to the hospital myself with the hotel concierge and arranged to have my husband discharged and brought him back to the hotel,” she said.
The nightmare wasn’t over. Gary Stone had a relapse soon after in the Naples hotel. His heart condition triggered and it caused him to fall. Local emergency medical services returned to the hotel and Nan’s husband was taken to a different hospital that morning.
He was released later that night.
Nan Stone doggedly tried to get the emergency assistance company to help, placing numerous calls to them.
“I must have had at least a dozen phone conversations with that company during this time. They were absolutely no help. It was very frustrating because I do not speak Italian and really needed guidance and support during this time,” she said.
Thankfully, the hotel workforce was supportive. “If it wasn’t for the hotel staff, I don’t know what I would have done. They were so helpful in getting me to and from the hospitals and sending food to my room. They did everything possible to help me. They were great,” she said.
[Related Reading: How to Manage a Medical Emergency Abroad]
Fearful her husband could have more incidents she told her husband they needed to go home. He agreed.
“I felt he had serious cardiac issues that needed to be handled,” she said.
She called the emergency assistance company, again.
“They told me we couldn’t leave until they had someone check him from their list of doctors and they didn’t know how many days it would be before they could get someone to come see him. Of course, none of the doctors would come because of COVID. It was ridiculous,” she said.
They sat for a day and a half waiting, hoping the emergency assistance company would sort it out.
Finally, Nan took matters into her own hands, called the airline and booked return flight tickets costing more than $6,000. On her own, she had to arrange for wheelchair assistance to make certain her husband had wheelchair support to guide him through the terminal, security and to their gate.
They made it home successfully. Ironically, the emergency assistance company called the Stones this time. But by then, they had enough.
“I was so angry. I told them I cannot talk to you. They made that situation more than twice as bad as it could have been. Aside from all the denial of services, they were patronizing, telling me I didn’t understand there was a pandemic, I didn’t understand the time difference, and paperwork is necessary. It was beyond horrible.”
The Stones relied on an emergency assistance company promising services and they didn’t deliver.
After seeing a cardiologist immediately upon his return home, Gary is in good health.
“He needed a cardiac ablation (a procedure that scars tissue in your heart to block irregular electrical signals as a treatment for heart rhythm problems). He has a heart monitor and some prescribed medicines. For a 76-year-old man, he’s good now, really good, he’s great,” Nan said.
A Switch to Global Rescue
The Stones are now Worldwide LifelineTM members and will receive services provided by Global Rescue, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services with 18 years of experience and more than 20,000 operations spanning every range of injury and illness across the globe.
“After signing up for Worldwide Lifeline, I’m so happy that AAA has researched, identified and made available a superior option for emergency medical evacuation for injury or illness, including COVID,” Nan Stone said.
Worldwide Lifeline members receive services including: emergency field rescue from the point of illness or injury, transport home after hospital discharge, medical advisory services 24/7/365 from nurses and paramedics trained for any medical situation any time you’re more than 100 miles from home, direct traveler assistance to help with local health care systems, and telehealth access 24/7/365 for real-time consultations and treatment if they choose.
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