County OK’s FMH Collection Policy

By a narrow 3-2 margin, Fairfield Memorial Hospital received the County’s blessing Monday night to adopt more aggressive collection policies.

“The one thing the hospital has a problem with is billing,” County Council Chairman David Ferguson said prior to the vote. “It’s not the Council’s decision to tell the hospital what it can and can’t do, and that’s not what this vote is about. No matter which way it goes, there’s going to have to be some real looking into this thing and making sure that it doesn’t go south. With the possibility of real liens and real property taken, which is right there in the bylaws, this could get pretty thick pretty fast if we don’t go about it in the right way. We need to be really mindful of how it’s administered to make sure our citizens aren’t put in jeopardy for no due cause.”

Ferguson (District 5) ultimately voted against the policies, as did Councilman Mikel Trapp (District 3). Carolyn Robinson (District 2), who put the motion on the floor, and David Brown (District 7), who offered the second voted for the measure, as did Council Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry (District 1). Councilman Kamau Marcharia (District 4) was absent from Monday night’s meeting, while Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6), who works for the hospital, abstained.

The new collection policies were discussed in great detail during Council’s Dec. 3 work session (see the Dec. 7 issue of The Voice), at which time Tim Mitchell, the hospital’s Chief Financial Officer, told Council that Fairfield Memorial loses between $5 million and $6 million each year in free care, some of which could be recouped from patients who may have the ability to pay some or all of their bills, but simply aren’t doing so.

“We’re still providing care to those who don’t have the ability to pay for it,” Mitchell told Council on Dec. 3. “What (the new policy) is doing is, essentially, preventing people from abusing our policy and getting care at a discount or for free who have the ability to pay.

“Only by collecting from people who have the ability to pay can we pay for services for those who are truly needy,” Mitchell added.

Perry noted during the work session that the hospital in Allendale has adopted a similar method for collection with considerable success, more than doubling their collections.

“The taxpayers and the County support this hospital, and we want to make sure we are serving the folks who are the most needy,” Perry said.

While Ferguson said he agreed with Perry in principal, he was not enthusiastic about the new policy’s ability to garnish wages.

“That’s a pretty drastic step,” Ferguson said Dec. 3. “I’m not sure if I would be comfortable with doing that.”

Monday night, Ferguson’s vote reflected those same sentiments.

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