Methodist Le Bonheur review of patient lawsuits underway, some see early changes in court

Local News

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – There’s some relief for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare patients sued by the non-profit hospital system for unpaid bills.

This week, after a scathing report by MLK50 and ProPublica uncovered thousands of poor patients sued, hospital leaders suspended court collections and announced a 30-day review.

Wednesday morning, two dozen or so cases with initial hearings were dropped.

While hospital leaders promised their own improvements, some state lawmakers want new laws to better balance compassion with the bottom line.

“A lot of these people just simply can’t afford it. This isn’t a matter of them not wanting to pay,” MLK50 Editor Wendi C. Thomas said.

One by one Wednesday morning, the judge gave each Methodist Le Bonheur patient in front of her different orders for their hundreds or thousands of dollars in hospital bills.

“Some people are getting motions approved to start paying, other people are getting their cases dropped, but dropped doesn’t mean gone,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ investigation found between 2014 and 2018, the Methodist hospital system filed more than 8,300 lawsuits against patients who owed, about six a day on average.

“This has been going on for a long while,” Thomas said.

Methodist leaders responded with a 30-day review and suspension of court collections. A spokesperson added: “We want to be absolutely sure that our practices continue to support our mission and vision of improving every life we touch regardless of ability to pay.”

“I’ve talked to a lot of elected officials, community members who say that they believe that Methodist is a good community partner and they are hoping that they’ll make a change,” Thomas said.

That includes Tennessee Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis.

“The disturbing thing about this is how it compounds poverty,” Rep. Hardaway said.

He asked the state comptroller to show how the hospital system uses its state tax dollars for charity care. Rep. Hardaway also spoke with Methodist’s CEO and President, Michael Ugwueke.

“He was willing to address it right away and I was impressed by that,” Rep. Hardaway said.

Local 24 News tried Wednesday to sit down with someone on camera with the Methodist Le Bonheur hospital system, but a spokesperson said no one was available.

Attorneys representing the Methodist system also declined comment leaving court Wednesday morning.

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