St. Francis Hospital responds…but not to us

Greenville, South Carolina’s Bon Secours St. Francis Health System is proud of its record. Its hospitals deliver 2,100 babies every year, nearly one baby for every employee of the hospital. Its stated mission is as follows: “… to bring compassion to health care and to be good help to those in need, especially the poor and dying. We commit ourselves to bringing people and communities to health and wholeness through the healing ministry of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.”

Sounds great, no?

If you were one of the thousands of people who read and commented on the story about our St. Francis Hospital billing dispute, you might have wondered how this little tale ended.

To catch you up, I sent the piece linked above to St. Francis, its billing office, its corporate headquarters, and its CEO. Anyone who has read the story knows I felt my family was deceived, over-billed, wronged, and impugned by the hospital that boasts of its bringing compassion to healthcare. Weeks went by with no response. We received a small, unexplained check in the mail that covered about 1/3 of what we were over-billed, but that was it…until a letter from the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs came in the mail.

Yeah, I’d also sent my 4,000-word missive to the state and the Consumer Affairs Department had taken up my case. St. Francis stalled and didn’t respond within the required three weeks. Finally, Consumers Affairs sent St. Francis a warning that no response would be seen, essentially, as a tacit admission of guilt.

A couple of weeks ago, the law offices of Nexsun Pruet, a high dollar law firm in the state capital (it recently hired the most respected private attorney in the state, former federal judge Billy Wilkins), hand delivered the response to Consumer Affairs. I now have a copy of the letter in my hands.

In the letter, St. Francis blames everybody but itself for what happened.

  • It blames us, the patient, for not understanding the difference between hospital fees and professional fees, despite the fact that the billing office refused to write the estimate on anything more official than a Post-It Note. Our payment to the anesthesia company and private doctor not withstanding, St. Francis maintains it can bill separately for employees on its payroll under a different billing system than is quoted in the initial estimate.
  • It blames Anesthesia Business Consultants for over-billing us. What’s interesting about this is that the letter readily admits that the Certified Nurse Anesthetist is an employee of St. Francis. The letter reads, “Because the CRNAs are St. Francis employees the bill for their professional fees states it is a bill from St. Francis. However, these fees are only professional fees and not related to a facility fee charged by St. Francis.” What’s fascinating about this is that during our time at the hospital, my wife was seen by no less than half a dozen nurses and other professionals. All of those nurses are included in the “facility fees,” but the CRNA, also an employee of St. Francis, is billed separately.
  • St. Francis admits it billed our insurance after it had already accepted payment from us, despite our explicit request that our insurance never be billed. St. Francis admits it received, as a result, double payment for the services. “As soon as St. Francis learned of the mistake…all the money was refunded to the insurer. Understandably, this may have caused an inconvenience to the Willis’ but did not result in any additional fees charged to them.” That’s the fun part of the letter. The “inconvenience” lasted through a month of phone calls, insulting insinuation from the St. Francis business office, and personal grief over what was happening to us. The only reason the insurance company got paid back was that we forced a face-to-face meeting with St. Francis to get it to correct the problem.
  • The first 600 words of this post are confusing enough to make even me say, “Huh? What happened?”

    To boil it all down, St. Francis believes my wife and I are too dumb to understand the exceptionally simple billing practices of its hospital. It believes that if not for our stupidity or the over-billing by the company that bills for random St. Francis employees, there would not have been a problem. My wife and I are both college educated professionals. One of my career highlights was a two-year breakdown of a $385 million Ponzi scheme such that it could be understood by the dullards St. Francis believes my family to be. That’s a long way of saying, we aren’t idiots and the suggestion that our “confusion” resulted in this year-long debacle is more insulting than trying to slide it past us in the first place. If St. Francis truly believes it was our inability to understand that resulted in the problems, there is probably a monkey wrench in the entire system.

    To this day, no one at St. Francis has bothered to call or write us personally. There has not been one “Sorry everything got so mixed up” or “We’re doing all we can to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else.” Nope. St. Francis has only responded to the state of South Carolina, and its response is, “We can’t help it of our patients are idiots.”

    That’s the compassion you can expect from St. Francis Hospital.

    Brad Willis

    Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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    10 Responses

    1. Jason says:

      You have enough friends who are lawyers to know that the hospital’s response (via their law firm) is not unexpected. The real question is what will the Dept of Consumer’s Affairs do now?

    2. Grange95 says:

      This is one of those situations where, if I were the hospital’s attorney, I would long ago have suggested a sit-down between Otis & his wife, and a high-level financial officer. There would have been a frank discussion of the situation, then an apology for “unintended confusion” and an offer to refund the excess charges without any admission of liability. Perhaps even throw in a promise to review the hospital’s billing procedures.

      The stonewalling, blame the victim approach rarely works, and usually is because of someone high up covering his backside against criticism that he mishandled the initial complaints.

      Still, a stunningly inept performance by the hospital.

    3. OhCaptain says:

      Most businesses would have long since slithered under a rock after making you happier. Like Grange said, this really is starting to look like someone covering their butt after completely botching the first phase. I really can’t wait to here what the Dept. of Consumer Affairs does. Where I’m from, that “the consumer’s are just stupid” approach is usually met with a quick chuckle and more embarrassing investigations into things they really don’t want public. Oops.

    4. BadBlood says:

      It takes a big person to admit he’s made a mistake. St. Francis administrators have cemented themselves as small minded people once again.

    5. Franky5Angel says:

      Can’t wait until next month’s St. Francis posting. I smell a movie script, book deal, musical in the works. This whole thing is so bad it’s almost comical. Very good fodder.

    6. pokerpeaker says:

      I had a similar situation happen to me at a local medical clinic here, and it was obvious to me, too, that they simply thought I was just too stupid to understand. When I finally told them who I was – yes, that Dan England who writes for the paper – they changed gears right away. I would imagine they treat all their clients like this, and that’s probably the biggest reason why more and more people are so pissed about their health care.
      Keep after ’em.

    7. The Hankster says:

      Don’t expect a lot from the Dept. of Consumer Affairs…It has been my experience…that they are…(More often than not)…a ‘Toothless Tiger’

    8. KenP says:

      *** off topic ***

      I saw your blog “over there” today about giving: Raiding the VIP store to give back

      My blog for today was of a similar vein. soldierangeles.org is happy to get mugs, chip sets, etc. to forward to the troops. Good organization and my go to one.

    9. MARY STACK says:

      Thank you for the follow-up on this story. I initially read about your problem on my twitter. You are not in a unique situation and the majority of people with this dilemma, simply give up the fight. I have read too many stories of sick people who can barely handle the complications of illness and are unable to muster strength for a ‘waiting game’ battle. Grange95 is wrong when he stated the “stonewalling, blame the victim approach rarely works”. Hospitals, physicians, hc services are playing the favorable odds on this game.

    10. Wes says:

      Typical response from Nexsun Pruet. It probably would have been the same if the hospital had dropped a cart on the baby’s head during delivery. As someone who used to represent Plaintiffs, I can tell you, an apology early in the process often would make a lot of things go away.

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