Local resident questions hospital policy on requiring upfront payments
MEEKER | After six weeks of illness, Meeker resident Donna Wille was told she would need two hospital procedures to determine the cause of her symptoms. Her Grand Junction-based physician, who comes to Pioneers Medical Center once a month, fit Wille into the April 15 schedule.
“It was easier, especially when you aren’t feeling well,” Wille said about the option to have the procedures done locally.
On April 14, Wille — who is self-employed and does not have insurance — received notification from the hospital’s finance department that she would need to pay nearly $6,000 upfront (including a 20% discount) or the procedures would not be performed. When she questioned the request, Wille was told it was “hospital policy.”
In a subsequent call, just an hour or so before Wille was supposed to begin prepping for the procedures the next day, hospital staff told her they had discussed her situation and that she could pay just $2,500 up front but would lose the 20% discount and could pay the balance in payments.
“What if I was the type of person who just went away and stayed sick?” Wille said. “They can’t be allowed to do this to people.” After discussion with her physician, she canceled her procedures at PMC and opted to have them done in Grand Junction. To her surprise, the cost out-of-pocket was almost 50% less than what she would have been charged at PMC.
Frustrated and upset, Wille spoke with several board members and CEO Liz Sellers, but didn’t feel she received satisfactory answers, so she and her husband Bill attended the hospital’s board meeting Tuesday and shared her experience during public participation.
“I was told time and time again ‘that is hospital policy’ and I want to know why,” Wille said. “I want to know why this hospital did that to me and if they’re doing that to other people.”
Sellers thanked Wille for coming, and said, “If we don’t know something is not right, we can’t fix it. I’m not sure we’ll have answers for you right this moment, but we’ll get back to you.”
Board member Todd Shults said he believes the policy predated the current board. Wille disagreed, saying she’s had other procedures at PMC in the recent past and not had the same experience.
“I paid another hospital when I should have paid in my own community. I will never come here again for any treatment unless it’s a life or death situation. Not only because of the treatment I received but because your rates are ridiculous. You seem to have forgotten that you’re supposed to be helping the local people here with their medical care… It was a caring community hospital. Now it seems like it’s all about medical tourism dollars.”
“Your motto of ‘caring hearts, serving hands’ should have a dollar sign on that S,” Bill said, noting the motto on one wall in the boardroom. Bill served on the ambulance crew for nine years, and Donna worked at PMC many years ago. The couple, who own Antler Taxidermy, have been in Meeker 40 years, and were “appalled” by the way Donna’s situation was handled.
She hopes other people who’ve had similar experiences will speak up.
In other business, the board heard a financial report from interim CFO Tim Howard, who said net revenue is up 4.6%, but operating expenses are up 5.5%. Gross revenues, he said, are up 33% over prior years.
Approval of the March board meeting minutes was tabled as the minutes are “awaiting corrections” requested by Sellers. Two board members — Brian Bofinger and Suzan Pelloni — resigned in the last month, leaving two open seats.
Sellers, in her administrative report, said there are currently 24 residents in the Walbridge Wing with three “on hold.” She praised the Wing staff for their “amazing” work keeping the residents healthy and engaged and entertained through COVID.
Sellers said “bottleneck issues” with the hospital’s phone system have been resolved, and shared with the board that the Town of Meeker waived the permit fee for the construction of a negative pressure space in the trauma room. The hospital plans to add three or four additional negative pressure rooms to the Wing so patients with contagious illness don’t have to be moved to the hospital side.
At the end of regular business, the board went into executive session to discuss “confidential agreements with the hospital.”
By NIKI TURNER – firstname.lastname@example.org