After the attorney general exposed the aggressive collection practices at Fairview Health, the issue is now attracting congressional scrutiny. Sen. Al Franken will hold a hearing on Wednesday, and FOX 9 News spoke with one person who will be there to tell her story.
Fairview hospitals hired Chicago-based Accretive Health in March 2010 to manage its revenue cycle. As part of that contract, Accretive placed staff members in all 10 hospitals. A big part of their job was to get people to pay their bills on the spot.
One worker told the attorney general's office, "We were told if we don't get money from patients in the Emergency Room, we will be fired."
A former Fairview nurse told FOX 9 News those aggressive tactics were even employed on her own daughter.
When 13-month-old Evan Augustine went to Fairview Ridges hospital last year for treatment of encephalitis, his grandmother, Jean Ross, went with him. In the few brief moments when Ross left the room, however, her daughter got a visitor.
"She said, 'Some woman came in here and she looked at me and asked if we could pay part or all of your bill now,'" Ross told FOX 9 News. "I said, 'Your bill?'"
Ross said her daughter told the person she couldn't pay the bill immediately, not even the co-pay.
"I said, 'Let's just deal with the baby right now, and we'll deal with that later."
That wasn't the end for the family. Ross says her daughter was met by a bill collector again when she returned to Fairview Ridges in February to give birth to her third son, Emmet.
"Within 24 hours -- not even a day after she delivered, the same thing happened. Only this time, it was up in her room after she had delivered the baby," Ross said.
Ross said her daughter told the collector no, and sent her out of the room.
What was even more shocking and disappointing to Ross is the fact that she worked at Fairview as a nurse for 36 years before she was laid off in 2010 -- before Accretive Health was brought in to help the hospital system improve its finances. Now, she plans to testify in Wednesday's Senate hearing to say this is no dignified way to provide health care.
"While I can sympathize with them needing to keep their finances in order, this is not the way to do it," she said.
This pattern was uncovered by Attorney General Lori Swanson in a six-volume compliance review. The bill collection practices of Accretive Health were so aggressive, internal e-mails from April 2011 describe how two patients left the Emergency Room at Fairview Southdale without being registered. At Fairview Ridges, two more patients left before seeing a doctor.
In the past month, a number of major changes have been made at Fairview -- including ending the revenue cycle contract with Accretive Health. The board has also opted against renewing the contract of the CEO that hired Accretive Health.
A company vice president from Accretive is expected to testify in the hearing as well, along with the chairman of the board. It's expected to be the first time detail from the company itself will be heard.