Patients who owe money to Bayfront Medical Center may get a nasty surprise. Beginning this year the hospital began suing patients for unpaid medical bills.
The downtown St. Petersburg hospital was independently owned until 2013 when it was acquired by the Naples-based Health Management Associates and joined a group of six hospitals rebranded “Bayfront” located both north and south of the St. Pete location along the I-75 corridor.
It was then acquired by a Tennessee company called Community Health Systems in a deal that was closed this past January. There are seven hospitals in that group including ones in St. Pete, Dade City, Punta Gorda, Venice, Brooksville, Port Charlotte and Spring Hill.
Even after being acquired by CHS, Bayfront did not appear to sue patients directly through 2014. Bayfront has filed against 376 patients with 125 of those cases rolling in during October.
The hospital sued no patients in January. The process began in February when eight complaints were filed. Another 13 were filed in March, eight in April and 42 in May. Another 27 were filed in June with activity picking up in July with 45 lawsuits. August followed with 41. Another 67 were filed in September.
Accurate stats for this month are not yet available.
The new trend in suing patients is significant at Bayfront considering its status as a trauma center. Although some hospitals may refuse service to uninsured patients, Bayfront must treat patients regardless of coverage.
One anonymous Pinellas County patient told SaintPetersblog they were fighting a suit based on over-charges. Due to HIPPA laws, the hospital cannot address cases.
Some low-income, uninsured patients use the hospital as a last resort to receive treatment for illnesses that could be treated far cheaper at a doctor’s office. Because doctor’s offices often require payment upfront, that isn’t an option for many who are poor and sick.
Those types of patients are also the least likely to be able to make good on a lawsuit if a judgment goes against them.