Sunday, November 1, 2009
Carilion: And The Times Beat (Down) Goes On
The Roanoke Times' absolute obsession with hammering Carilion Clinic, regardless of what Carilion does, reached Biblical proportions with this morning. This edition of the paper's lead story--by reporter Laurence Hammack--tells us about efforts to help poor people in terms that make the organization look far worse than Scrooge.
Carilion, says the story, has reduced efforts to collect bad debt against the poor by 76 percent and increased the money it spent on those same people to $51 million during the past fiscal year. The first person quoted in the story was not a Carilion spokesman or executive or patient, but one David Beidler of the Legal Aid Society who responded with a snarky, "Maybe their sense of charity has expanded broadly enough to include not seeking judgments against people who clearly cannot afford to pay them." There is no immediate counter to that charge.
As we read on, however, we find only Carilion PR man Eric Earnhart quoted in its behalf, and then only by e-mail. Earnhart's explanation includes some pretty sound reasoning, if I read it correctly: poor people are asked to fill out paperwork that will qualify them for charity care and if they don't, they are treated as if they have enough money to take care of the bill. Since Carilion is not in the business of clairvoyance, that does not seem unreasonable to me.
A good friend of mine, in fact, has been sued by Carilion. This friend, whose writing career has hit a large speedbump would be classified as poor by just about anybody. He didn't fill out the paperwork for free care, though, and was sued when he couldn't pay. He took responsibility for that. "It wasn't their fault that I didn't comply," he said.
Late in the story, there is an explanation that Carilion's $51 million in charity care expenditure compares to $7.9 million locally at Lewis-Gale Medical Center--part of HCA, which is a huge national organization. Nothing else is mentioned about the comparison.
The paper boils down the reason for Carilion's policy change thusly: it's afraid of bad press.
The story catalogs The Times' own incessant harranging of Carilion, often over niggling matters, and even throws in that god-awful non-event that Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal engaged in a year ago. As the story winds down, a woman who specializes in helping patients with medical bills, Pat Palmer of Salem (who is brought in out of nowhere), is quoted as explaining the whole thing succinctly: "They have just been bombarded with bad press for a while and that's one way for them to try to ease it up." I gather from that, Ms. Palmer is an expert not only on medical bills, but also on the impact of press coverage. The story does not say where she earned that credential.
None of this could possibly have anything to do with Carilion doing something because it's the right thing to do, though, right? Naaaaah. Not that.