‘I was appalled’: Family says medical air transport company took its GoFundMe donations

DELTONA, Fla. — A Deltona family can’t believe what happened after contacting an air ambulance service to transport a relative hospitalized with COVID-19.

The family claims the aviation company took thousands of dollars in donations for a flight that was canceled.

A thousand miles away Barry Hoyte battled COVID-19 for months and his family in Central Florida felt helpless.

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“He ended up being on a ventilator. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t do anything for himself,” said Barry Hoyte’s sister Tameka Hoyte.

She led the family effort to book a medical flight from New York so he could recover near them in Central Florida.

Barry Hoyte is a United States Postal Service supervisor, and she was told his insurance covered the cost.

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Tameka Hoyte found Express Aviation Services in St. Petersburg. The company quoted $16,000 for a jet medical flight.

“She said she would charge our insurance, but she would have to have some cash up front. OK, so I gave her $1,000,” Tameka Hoyte said.

She claimed Express Aviation wanted more money up front, so it helped set up a GoFundMe page that raised nearly $8,000 in donations. But Tameka Hoyte says the weekend her brother was scheduled for transport, doctors would not release him.

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The family felt the company’s cancellation policy and demands for more funds raised red flags. So, just a few days later, they turned to another company, Angel Flight that Tameka says flew her brother to Florida and only collected insurance proceeds.

The family could not believe Express Aviation kept the deposit and removed nearly $8,000 from Barry’s GoFundMe donations.

“I was appalled, and I called the bank and I tried to fight it,” Tameka Hoyte said.

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Action 9′s Todd Ulrich reached Express Aviation’s president who said the family cancelled the flight after the jet arrived in New York, and then the family stopped communicating. He said the company collected the donations it helped raise to cover expenses, and the contract fully disclosed charges insurance may not cover.

“I don’t see why they feel they deserve it,” Tameka Hoyte said.

The family is sending a complaint to Florida insurance regulators. A new law does restrict surprise billing for air ambulance services. And during COVID-19 that could protect families struggling to make life and death decisions for their loved ones.

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You can read the full statement from Express Aviation President Ken Fox below:

“On 10/13/20 Tameka Hoyte contacted us for a quote to fly her brother who had a severe stroke in New York and the family wanted him to be flown home to Florida. They requested that this flight happen ASAP as they were worried he didn’t have much time left. The cost of the flight was $16,200 and they explained they did not have the money to pay for this flight but they did start a Gofundme page to help pay the cost. We helped them to promote their gofundme page and also offered to match donations .50C on the dollar up to $1000. To help this family get their family member home immediately we offered to do the flight for the raised amount on gofundme and then if they raised more on that page we would take the amount up to the full price of the flight. This was a big risk for my company but we wanted to help this family out. Tamela Hoyt executed the transport contract and paid the $8,000 on the 16th of October.

Our flight dispatcher worked with the family for days to help them get all the details set up so we can transport Barry back to Florida. The first flight was lined up for 10/16 when Tameka said the Doctor would discharged him. The flight did not happen on that day because they Doctor would not release Barry until an appropriate facility in Florida was set up. She wanted us to fly without medical approval on the other end which we could not do. Our flight dispatcher communicated with the family multiple times a day trying to set this up. We have all this conversation saved if requested to view as proof.  We finally set up flight on the 10/29 and flew our aircraft to the departing city to do this transport. It was then reported that the flight was delayed again so an additional procedure could be completed. On 10/30 our crew once again got in position for flight.  Then out of the blue we receive a text that they no longer want the flight.

The hospital relayed to us that they could no longer talk to us and we did receive any more communication from the family.

The patient did have medical insurance but since the flight was not a medical necessity there was no guarantee that it would cover the cost of the tip.

The company that did this flight for no money is a large company with a team of attorneys to fight the insurance company for payment. If insurance does not pay this claim they will go after the family for the cost of the flight.

We did everything we could to help the family get Barry transported and exhaust a lot of expenses in doing so.”

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.