In labor and without a ride: One woman's experience shows the risks of 'Uber-izing' healthcare

When David Lee's wife went into labor early, the couple called for their birthing coach, ordered an Uber and waited on the sidewalk outside of their Manhattan apartment, according to Fortune. The ride to the New York hospital was three miles away.

As the Uber arrived, the driver saw Ms. Lee vomit on the sidewalk. He told them he would lose $1,000 if Ms. Lee became sick in the car, and that no other driver would agree to drive a woman in labor, according to the report. The couple promised they would pay to get the driver's car cleaned if need be, but to no avail. Despite pleas from the couple and the birthing coach, the driver drove away and charged them $13 for his lost time.

Since the advent of Uber, the transportation company's name has been used by many business minds as an emblem of dedicated customer service. To "Uberize" something is to rapidly bring a service to a patron, instead of the other way around. However, not all industries — such as healthcare — can be Uberized, and doing so can be risky.

In the end, the couple summoned another Uber driver, who took them to the hospital without problem. Mr. and Ms. Lee's baby was born healthy in a few hours. But their stressful predicament with the first driver serves as a reminder that novel, convenient alternatives may not be appropriate for urgent matters, such as getting to the hospital.

"I don't blame Uber for one driver's poor actions, since bad apples can appear in any organization, but I do think that when a company has a culture of bullying their way past laws and regulations, as Uber seems to do, they begin to think they can act with impunity in anything," Mr. Lee, a 37-year-old lawyer, told Fortune.

Ultimately, Uber refunded Mr. Lee the $13 in response to his complaints. However, he said the company refused to provide the driver's last name so he could pursue a complaint with the New York taxi regulator. He said Uber eventually stopped responding to his emails.

An Uber spokesperson initially told Fortune the company does not discuss individual drivers' incidents as part of its privacy policy, but then issued the statement: "Denying service to a passenger in labor is unacceptable: it goes against our code of conduct and the standard of service our riders rely on. We extend our deepest apologies to both riders and have taken action to respond to this complaint. We are glad that the rider's next driver was professional and courteous."

The Lees' experience also raises questions regarding whether Uber should be doing more to educate its drivers about their legal responsibilities to uphold civil rights. Emily Martin, the general counsel of the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C., told Fortune New York city and state laws forbid drivers from rejecting women in labor.

Uber appears to be taking these issues seriously. Its non-discrimination policy and code of conduct prohibit the refusal of service based on identity. The company told Fortune that complaints from riders alleging discrimination will result in an investigation and sometimes termination of the driver. 

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