Yale-New Haven Hospital officials, facing a state lawsuit, denied allegations last week that the hospital misused funds intended for the poor.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose office filed the suit Feb. 20, said he would continue to take legal action against the hospital’s practices.

In the suit, Blumenthal alleged that the hospital illegally denied free medical care to eligible low-income patients and aggressively pursued debt collection against individuals who are unable to pay their medical bills.

Yale-New Haven Hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss said the hospital admitted and treated all patients without considering their ability to pay. Krauss also said the hospital provided $52 million in free and undercompensated care to low-income patients in 2002.

“We have a long history of meeting the needs of our patients and the community,” she said. “We treat all patients regardless of their ability to pay.”

Yale-New Haven Hospital is currently endowed with approximately $37 million in free bed funds. The funds were established by donors to finance free patient care at the hospital for low-income patients.

According to the lawsuit, the hospital imposed “unreasonable barriers” for eligible low-income patients, which had significantly discouraged applications for free bed funds. Blumenthal said an average of only 55 applications per year for free bed funds were filed between 1996 and 2000.

Blumenthal cited factors including not effectively advertising the funds available to low-income patients as discouraging applications.

In the statement released Thursday, the hospital said it approved on average 570 applications per year for free care in the past seven years, and has further subsidized free care since 1998 with its own funds in addition to donated funds.

In 2002, the hospital spent $571,000 to finance 111 free care applications as well as spending $2.5 million of its own funds to support an addition 663 applications, according to the statement. In total, the hospital funded 774 cases in 2002.

“Y-NHH goes beyond the traditional application of free bed funds,” the statement said. “We voluntarily established an additional free bed fund with hospital operating dollars called the Yale New Haven Fund.”

The hospital’s statement also said each dollar earned in the free bed fund has been spent every year for free bed purposes. It also defended the hospital’s advertising method by saying officials provided financial counselors to patients.

In a response to the hospital’s statement, Blumenthal said the hospital’s rebuttal to his lawsuit misrepresented the issues.

“Yale-New Haven Hospital’s recent attempt to ‘set the record straight’ about its charitable care policies is self-serving and misleading,” the statement said. “It distorts the issues and purposely confuses the public through apples-to-oranges comparisons.”

In his statement, Blumenthal also said his office will continue to “vigorously” take legal action against the hospital to ensure that its free bed funds are being used legally.

“Our continuing investigation will be independent, thorough, and fair,” he said. “We look forward to the opportunity to further rebut the hospital’s claims in court.”

Krauss said the hospital acted appropriately and legally in administering the free bed funds. She also said all activities associated with free care funds have been reported in compliance with the attorney general’s office.

“We’re impeccable in our accounting for these funds,” she said. “We are confident that we did not do anything illegal.”

Krauss also said the attorney general’s office never indicated there was a problem with the hospital’s reporting of free bed fund usage. The latest request for information was provided as required to the attorney general’s office in May 2001, Krauss said.