Nonprofit Hospitals Embracing Predatory Practices

Health Care Hospital Accountability

            Marble Falls       If there’s one place where we absolutely need to feel like we’re in good hands and that everyone’s priority is our best interest, it has to be in hospitals with healthcare workers.  I found myself thinking about this as I entered the University of Arkansas Medical Systems (UAMS) main location last night to visit and friend and comrade and his family.  I had passed by the hospital in Little Rock hundreds of times, but couldn’t remember when or if I had ever actually been through the front door.  Certainly, Local 100 has members who work there, but I felt like a stranger in a foreign land.  There were new buildings everywhere.  ACORN had done an action there more than fifty years ago, but we were outside of the emergency room, and now the whole geography was unknown to me.

I was thinking less about that, as I sat with mi companero spelling the family, so they could get something to eat and handle their affairs, than the recent report from CNN on this very institution having sued 8000 patients, including 500 of its own workers, for unpaid medical bills, most of which were for less than $1000.  UAMS had made a deal with an aggressive debt collector who they are paying over $3 million to bleed out the last penny from patients unable to pay, a number of whom have said they were forced into bankruptcy by the hospital’s actions.  Of course, the hospital’s PR people and CEO claim they are within American Hospital Association standards, and that they only do this is a minority of situation, but we’ve done the studies and know that their charity care record is less than what nonprofit, public hospitals should see as their mission.  Did they reroute any of these folks to charity care, despite their claims of not suing people below 200% of the poverty standard, or did they and their debt collection contractor just cash the money they were able to squeeze?

Frankly, I’m suspicious now, and I don’t want to be.  I found myself hoping the additional Hail Mary ministrations for my friend would work, but wondering if the hospital was also just trying to run up the bill.  That’s a terrible feeling that poisons your trust, hope, and prayers.

This isn’t just a problem in Arkansas.  The stories of Alina Health, a large Minnesota-based nonprofit, denying care to patients with more than $4500 in unpaid bills was also fresh on my mind.  They had been forced by bad publicity to abandon that policy, but how many other tax-exempt nonprofits might be doing the same, just under the radar?  I know some hospitals, especially in rural areas are in trouble.  The pandemic support is over.  Staffing is an issue everywhere and health care workers – rightly – need to be paid fairly and that means more.

Still, the bottom line is that we need to believe that we and our loved ones, and in fact everyone who faces a health care issue, are going to get the care necessary and needed, regardless of income or cost.  The Hippocratic Oath long-established for health care is to “do no harm,” but if the bottom line for hospitals is really the bottom line on their financial statements and not the quality of our care, health and well-being, my friend is in trouble, and so are all of us.