Group criticizes hospital debt collection practices



A social justice organization connected with Yale’s unions has accused Yale-New Haven Hospital of unfair debt collection processes and misuse of donated free health care funds.

The Hospital Debt Justice Project has been trying to rally support through community meetings, including one tomorrow night. Group leaders said Yale-New Haven Hospital has misused donations and unfairly targeted patients with aggressive debt collection practices. But Yale-New Haven Hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss said the hospital has been generous with its policies for free and under-compensated care.

The Hospital Debt Justice Project is affiliated with the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, a social justice organization closely aligned with Yale’s unions.

The group’s efforts come on the heels of a lawsuit Connecticut Attorney Gen. Richard Blumenthal filed Feb. 20 alleging that the hospital illegally denied funds for free healthcare to eligible low-income patients and engaged in aggressive debt collection against individuals who were unable to pay their medical bills. Hospital officials denied the charges.

Yale-New Haven Hospital is currently endowed with nearly $37 million in free bed funds. The funds were donated by individuals and foundations to finance free medical care at the hospital for low-income patients.

Krauss said the hospital has fulfilled its obligations.

“Given the condition of the economy and our role as a charitable institution, the hospital provided more than $52 million last year in free and under-compensated care,” Krauss said.

Bill Meyerson, a union spokesman, said several people who have been subject to the hospital’s debt collection practices inspired the group’s efforts.

“As the story got around the city, more and more people became outraged about it, and more and more people who had suffered similar treatment by the hospital came forward,” Meyerson said. “People are very concerned about these practices and want these questions answered.”

But Krauss said the hospital treated all patients without considering their financial status. Krauss also said the hospital makes every effort to assist low-income patients with medical bill payment.

“Yale-New Haven Hospital provides care to patients, regardless of their ability to pay,” Krauss said. “The hospital makes every reasonable effort to determine financial need and qualifications so patients can take advantage of all of the options, including free bed funds, to cover their hospital bills.”

Meyerson said the Connecticut Center for a New Economy had organized a number of community meetings leading up to this one, and had sent out mailings to 2,500 community and political leaders.

“We want to continue to educate and inform the public about this issue,” Meyerson said. “We’re looking to come out of this meeting with a plan of action as to how we can hold the hospital administration accountable to the public.”

Grace Rollins ’01, a researcher for Service Employees International Union District 1199 and the author of a report titled “Uncharitable Care: Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Charity Care and Collections Practices” said the hospital’s medical debts collection is a serious problem in the community.

“It really is at the point of crisis, and it needs an immediate solution,” she said. “It’s very much about looking at what the mission of the hospital should be and trying to bring it back to its mission.”

SEIU District 1199 represents 150 dietary workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital. District 1199 has also been trying to organize 1,800 other hospital workers and is closely aligned with Yale’s unions.

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