Low-wage workers at a Christian, non-profit hospital are being issued medical bills that have not been paid.
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Many of Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare’s employees have lost their jobs because they owing medical expenses. It’s impossible for the corporation to seek out better financial aid from competitors because of their healthcare plan.
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE is the city. An hour into her shift at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare and a trip to Shelby County General Sessions Court was all one of the housekeepers had to look forward to in 2018.
She had another meeting with her boss that day. The hospital sued her for unpaid medical expenses, so she wore her gray and black uniform.
The non-profit hospital system in Memphis, Tennessee, filed a libel suit against the woman in 2017 for the cost of hospital visits to relieve her abdominal pain before they hired her.
An attorney’s fee of around $5,800 is now owing by Methodist to her.
Strangely, she claimed that the company issued her with a paycheck for $12.25 an hour. “I know how much you owe me,” he said. That money isn’t even enough for me to eat on, the maid appealed for anonymity because she feared being fired from the medical staff if she revealed her identify to a reporter.
Between 2014 and 2018, the United Methodist Church-affiliated hospital filed more than 8300 lawsuits against patients and workers. The hospital system has attempted to take over the wages of more than 160 Methodist employees following the issuance of judgments in more than 70 instances, according to an MLK50-ProPublica examination of Shelby County General Sessions Court documents, docket reports online and case materials.
Employees racked up some of the debt while they were working for Methodist, but others racked up the debt before they even started working there. Former Methodist personnel who have since left the organization and taken other positions are not included in the calculation.
According to an eyewitness, more than twelve Methodist workers appeared in court between January and mid-June to fight hospital lawsuits for medical bills.
More than $1200 is owing to one Methodist Le Bonheur employee. It’s a good thing she advised paying an extra $100 for January even though her account shows monthly costs above her income by $1,650 each month. After consulting with a Methodist lawyer, Judge Betty Thomas Moore agreed to the worker’s request, although she has already skipped the payment.
The first hearing was attended by a Methodist staff member in hospital scrubs a few weeks later. She had been sued by the hospital for more than $4,000 in damages. The woman said that her manager should have told her prior to filing a lawsuit over the workplace she worked at.
When a Methodist employee who had worked for the company for nearly four years showed up in court with an envelope full of invoices in May, the judge was surprised. In addition, she owes $5,400 to her employer. This includes a 2017 invoice from the hospital’s neonatal unit. According to her declaration, she had a checking account balance of less than $4 when she gave birth to the infant the previous year. Although Methodist had offered to pay $10 bi-monthly or $20 each month, her lawyer sought $200 every month. In order to pay the judge, the judge ordered her to pay him $100 a month.
There have been reports of hospitals pursuing patients for overdue fees. However, Methodist, which is the largest hospital in the Memphis area, is unique in that most of its patients are employed by Methodist. Almost every day, Methodist employees find themselves in court, defending themselves against their employers’ debt-related litigation.
Despite other financial assistance plans offering additional advantages, the Methodist health insurance policy exclusively allows employees to receive medical treatment in Methodist institutions.
To put it another way, it is appropriate to reassess the insurance and wage scale of employees at the time when the hospital is able to bill large numbers of employees.
Mark Rukavina, a nonprofit hospital specialist and manager of Community Catalyst, a healthcare advocacy organization, stated, “One would anticipate that if there is an action taken against a big number of employees, the hospital will look at the insurance they give staff.”
Not all requests for interviews with Methodist were acted upon. Despite repeated requests for information about Methodist’s legal actions against employees and its processes in accordance with the United Methodist Church, Methodist did not respond in writing to the requests for information. As a result, the company declared that it is devoted to supporting people who are unable to afford their medical bills.
As Shelby County’s second-largest privately held employer, we acknowledge our responsibilities in helping the various communities we serve succeed,” the hospital said in a press release. Because we care about our local economy, we’ve made the conscious decision to maintain many of the healthcare industry’s traditionally outsourced activities like printing, washing, and other tasks in-house.
Also, when asked if Methodist had a policy that prevents employees who have been mistreated by the organization from speaking with the media, Methodist refused to respond.
Employer vs. Lawsuit
On one particular day in January, the courtroom was home to ten different defendants. In court documents, they were referred to as “Methodists.”
Just steps away from suits-clad lawyers hired by their firm, employees in scrubs sat. There was no concern expressed by attorneys, judges, or defendants about the hospital’s dual role as an employer and a plaintiff in the lawsuits.
For example, Methodist’s financial aid strategy is unique in Memphis and the rest of the country, according to MLK50 and ProPublica. Those with health insurance, regardless of their out-of-pocket costs or other expenses, will not be covered by the policy. A deductible of $750 must be paid by each employee, after which they are liable for paying 20 percent of their inpatient and outpatient costs, up to a yearly limit of $4,100 in out of pocket charges under the Methodist insurance coverage.
Documents from the Shelby County General Sessions include the housekeeper’s financial records, such as online docket reports and payment records. The housekeeper was repeatedly questioned by a reporter, both in person and over the phone. Six years of comprehensive Methodist hospital bills, her credit report, and past-due medical bills were all provided by the reporter. Prior to starting her new employment, she had paid off the most of her bills.
She was admitted to the hospital five times between 2012 and 2014 because of stomach-related concerns, according to the invoices. Cleaning rooms for $10.66 an hour was made possible since she was covered by the hotel’s insurance. After insurance paid its portion, she was left with a debt of slightly under $17,500.
Her insurance was revoked after she quit her job as a hotel cleaner in 2015. During the course of the year, she went to Methodist’s ER three times, but because she was uninsured and had a low income, she was entitled for financial aid. Methodist paid for more than $45,000 in hospital costs.
According to a press release from Methodist, uninsured patients receive a discount of 70% automatically, and those making less than 125% of the federal poverty limit receive free medical treatment. For an individual with two dependents, the cost is around $26,600. Patients without health insurance who make more than the poverty level but less than the federal poverty threshold are eligible for discounts, according to the report.
Cleaner moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 2016, after being unsuccessful in finding employment elsewhere. She claimed that her child had been in limbo for more than a year while she went between relatives in Chicago and Texas to try to find a permanent home for him.
She returned to Memphis in 2017 because she missed her grandchildren and her daughter. In August of 2017, Methodist filed a lawsuit against her for the expenses she accrued while being covered by the insurance company. She started working at a Methodist hospital the following month. The hourly wage was $11.95.
However, the hospital’s collection agency, which it runs, didn’t know her exact address and was unable to issue the notice that she was accused of being sued. The second time around, the information shared was accurate.
The woman’s condominium in South Memphis was served by a Process Server.
On the suggestion of a process server, she phoned the hospital’s collection agent and offered to pay $50 every week for two weeks in a row. Despite this, they said it wasn’t enough. What I would have to do is file a lawsuit. ” According to what she recalled, “they told me I’d be paying them for the rest of my life.”
Among the people who are reliant on the housekeeper are a grandson, 27, and a son, 27, who the housekeeper alleges has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. At the time of her testimony, she claimed to have earned an average of $16,000, which was more than $4,000 less than the poverty limit for a family of three at the time. (However, because she had insurance, the hospital’s policy said that she was ineligible for assistance.)
A former Memphis Methodist pastor named Fred Morton has been hired by Methodist as a member of the organization’s staff, much to the surprise of everyone.
“Workers should be paid a minimum salary that is adequate,” he stated. When it comes to their employees’ health care, they shouldn’t be predatory, right? This is directly at odds with the teachings of the Bible.
Further, he continued, bishops of the Methodist Church are responsible for reminding their flocks of the church’s principles.
He said, “It’s up to the church to go on its own.”
On the board of the hospital are three United Methodist bishops. A representative of Methodist Le Bonheur Health’s communication department was sent by Bishop Gary Mueller’s office. Bishop Bill McAilly could not be reached for a response. The Bishop James E. Swanson’s numerous requests for an analysis remained unanswered.
When she appeared before the General Sessions Court judge earlier this year, the cleaner requested payment of $50 every two weeks, or $100 for the majority of the months. The hospital’s lawyer requested $200 a month from the housekeeper.
If this is my only source of money, how am I supposed to survive? she wonders to herself.
In the hopes that the court would rule in favor of the hospital, the housekeeper suggested a new deal.
So she said right away: “I could handle $70-a-week.”
After the attorney had agreed, the judge signed the judgment.
According to the housekeeper, it’s “extremely sad” to be an employee, as well as an accused and a defendant. That she doesn’t have a way of making enough money when asked about it. She said, “It’s killing me gradually.”
She maintains that she has never contacted the hospital’s payroll department or administration to inquire about the expense of the facility being sued. I am conscious of the fact that they don’t appear to mind….”
It’s time to say goodbye to being a homeless person forever.
The low wages of some Methodist employees, compared to Memphis’ other large employers, make it difficult for them to pay for their own health care. For part-time and full-time employees at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the minimum wage was raised to $15/hour in December. Prior to St. Jude’s announcement, Shelby County, Shelby County Schools, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee all made comparable pledges.
Methodist’s lowest-paid managers of Shelby County’s five hospitals make $10 an hour. According to Methodist’s response to MLK50’s Living Wage Survey, the majority of workers earn less than $15 an hour.
According to a 2017 statement on the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce’s website, the city’s workers receive “wage rates that are lower than most other parts of the country.”
When it comes to problems like climate change and the death sentence, the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles have a direct impact on the amount of money workers must be paid. People are entitled to a “living wage,” it reads.
According to the Living Wage Model statement on the website of the church, “Exploitation or underpayment of employees is incompatible with Christ’s message to love our neighbor.”
Although Methodist was ranked as one of the best places to work in the United States by Forbes in 2019, it was unable to address employee complaints regarding their pay. “It is Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s policy to pay its employees competitive, market-based remuneration,” it states on its website.
There are only two government hospitals that pay their staff the federal minimum wage of $15 an hour: Methodist Baptist Memorial Healthcare and Regional One. Even at this level of income, MIT’s Living Wage Calculator and the Economic Policy Institute’s calculator both take into account local living costs, making it difficult for a single person to maintain a home with dependents.
For an hourly wage of $12.25, a housekeeper falls significantly below the national average. If she didn’t work overtime, her monthly take-home earnings would be about $1,600. She pays $610 a month in rent.
She’s had to rely on payday loans despite putting in a lot of extra time at work. It was renewed every two weeks in December and she paid $71 each time. “Peter must be substituted for Paul. When you owe someone money, repaying it is never simple.
The woman wanted to work at Walmart but was told that the location closest to her didn’t have any openings. She doesn’t expect a raise in compensation, but she does anticipate a more laid-back work environment.
“It’s terrible at times because my body feels like it can’t handle it anymore, but I get up anyway because I don’t want to be homeless again.”