PMH battling bad debt

Marlinton, WV – Pocahontas Memorial Hospital is losing patience – with patients who don’t pay their bills. During its May 24 board meeting, PMH chief financial officer Chad Carpenter tells the board how much uncollected debt the hospital has.

“There was a total of $165,000 that needed to be written off for the month, which is more than what we’re accustomed to,” he said. “It usually runs about $100,000.”

Carpenter only requested to write off $100,000 of the $165,000 in bad debt.

The financial officer says the hospital plans to begin legal action to collect unpaid bills.

“We do have the collection agency that tries to send communications to these patients that owe these bills,” he said. “But, we talked about going one step further, which is going to Magistrate [Court] for collection. That’s something we need to do. It’s time that we say, ‘we’re serious, we need these bills paid.'”

Carpenter tells the board that the days of generous government reimbursement for bad debt are over.

“It’s a struggle for the hospital to keep writing this stuff off,” he said. “We’re not going to get reimbursed for these bad debts like we have been in the past. You’ll get reimbursed for a percentage of them, but not as much as you used to.”

In years past, Medicare would reimburse hospitals for as much as 100-percent of bad debt. In February, President Obama signed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which reduces the maximum bad debt reimbursement to 25 percent. Carpenter says many patients with unpaid can reduce or eliminate the debt by working with the hospital.

“We want to encourage patients to come in and talk to us about the income-based discount plans that we have and bring us the information we need,” he said. “A lot of these accounts that we have – these are accounts – these people are here every month. If they just bring us in the information that we need, which would be like you income tax documents. We have you sign an application. We have to have a copy of your drivers license and utility bills. We can probably help them. We can write these off, if they qualify under our guidelines.”

The financial officer urges all patients with unpaid bills to come talk to the hospital business office about the debt reduction and elimination program. The board approved the $100,000 write-off.

The county-owned hospital had a net loss of more than $93,000 for the month of April. Carpenter explained that April – which lies between tourist seasons – is historically a slow month for the hospital.

The board heard updates from department chiefs. Hospital CEO Barbara Lay told the board she is continuing to recruit and interview doctors. Chief operations officer Theresa Wagner reported that a new CT scanner had been installed. Chief medical officer Dr. Frank Puckett reported that he is working to finalize a contract for the purchase of endoscopy equipment.

Board chairman Dr. Robert Must reported that he, Lay and board members Freda Jackson and Cathy Mossesso had attended a conference at Stonewall Jackson State Park, conducted by the Center for Rural Health Development, Inc. Must says the conference dealt with board member qualification.

“The speakers were dynamic,” he said. “It was really exciting. I really enjoyed it. It was really edifying for me because, typically, small hospital boards, like we have here, are comprised of well-meaning people from the community, who really don’t know anything about running a hospital. Sometimes, that has had disastrous results in a lot of places in the country. So, there is this effort to see that boards get some help.”

The chairman said the hospital will pursue board member certification, which will involve training events and a board retreat.

The next PMH board meeting is scheduled for June 28.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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