Friday, April 4, 2014

Via Christi....Not Quite So Charitable After All two things have gotten me through these last few months. One was facebook. Say what you will about social media, but when you are basically alone in life....having your family and friends instantly as close as your phone or computer regardless of where in the world they live helps so much. You all have gone through David's surgeries, ER trips and hospital stays with me and virtually held my hand through it all. If not for having that, I might have crumbled long ago.

The second thing that has gotten me through is my blogs. If not for having a place to unload all my emotional baggage along the way to no one in particular and then again to everyone, I might possibly have lost my mind, especially of late. This blog in particular has allowed me to scream, throw a fit and unload many times and I am beyond grateful. Speaking of unloading.....I am afraid today will be another one of "those" days!

I have tried very hard to avoid this rant and I call it a rant but by the time I am finished it may just be a full on fit. I have sat back and waited and gone through every avenue I could, trying to give the benefit of the doubt if it was due, but I have come to the conclusion that it is here it goes.

When David was born he was immediately admitted to the NICU at St. Francis Via Christi (I use the name because as my story progresses, you will see the irony of it all.) Within 24 hours of his birth my husband Tim and I were introduced to the hospital social worker who had in hand papers for us to sign and go over to put David on medicaid. I remember Tim taking offense to this as he worked at Learjet and David was immediately covered under our Lear insurance. The social worker pressed on though assuring us that he knew we had insurance but that all NICU babies were put on medicaid regardless of income or insurance as a precautionary measure for the first year. I remember him saying that anything can happen in that first year and medical bills can be astronomical so this was basically peace of mind for all involved. His words would prove to be prophetic. Davids bills those first five months in the NICU came close to a million dollars. Luckily we had great insurance through Lear and the bills were paid. Then the anything happened and Tim died. The day he died David got sick and ended up in the ER (Via Christi again). After waiting 2 hours to be seen and finally getting in at 11:45 p.m., I was informed that 15 more minutes and Tim's insurance would no longer be in effect. Apparently the employees family lose the insurance at midnight of the day the employee dies. Way to kick a girl when she is down. Thank God for state insurance.

Upon Tim's death we were basically left upside down on everything as we had no life insurance or health insurance and LOT'S of debt. I knew from experience though that health insurance was a necessity for all of us and several of Davids health care providers told me that what would benefit both David and the family was to continue with medicaid for David (otherwise we would have to deal with pre-existing conditions) and also to get the other kids on as well. For myself I had to go the BC/BS route. At least we were covered.

Over the years I have incurred and paid off some medical bills and paid on others. Years ago we started with doctors in the Wichita Clinic and we have always stayed with them. I have gotten behind and made pay arrangements, sometimes as little as $10/mo and then more when I could. There have even been times when bills got turned over to collection agencies through Wichita Clinic. Then I paid the collection agencies as I could. It has just been the story of my life. Living on a limited income means that sometimes paying for the health insurance comes above paying the medical bill or putting food on the table and keeping the house warm enough or cool enough for David was the priority.....not the medical bill. However, through all of this, because of state insurance (which by the way is not free and I do pay a monthly premium) my kids have never had an outstanding medical bill. Only me. 

Now Wichita for it's size has always had if not adequate, at least abundant health care. Growing up we had Riverside Osteopathic Hospital, St. Joseph Medical Center, St. Francis Medical Center  and Wesley Medical Center. Over the years Riverside closed and St. Joe and St. Francis became Via Christi and Wesley after several incarnations is still Wesley Medical Center.  I was a devout St. Francis girl through Davids NICU stay and even after his transfer to St. Joe. I refused to go anywhere else until my mom got her cancers. While at St. Joe they let her intestines seep through her incision and refused to listen to her when she as a nurse knew what was happening and then at St. Francis, they dropped her. Neither experience was pleasant and after that I decided that Wesley would be my hospital of choice. It worked well too as the Wichita Clinic where all our doctors were located had their main clinic just outside Wesley. We were now Wesley people. 

After Mom died in 2002, other than Davids constant doctors visits and the rest of the families occasional ones, that was the extent of our medical care. By 2003 I was nearly caught up on medical bills paying here and there when I could and working with the Wichita Clinic when necessary. Jump ahead to 2008 and David started having seizures, hospital stays, I found a lump in my breast and we found Z had a heart valve issue. Doctors offices, Wesley ER and Wesley Med Center became our homes away from home. Although the lump turned out to be nothing, with our family history I suddenly had a breast doctor that I was seeing twice a year complete with diagnostic mammograms and MRI's. She referred me to an internist because of our colon cancer history and I was then seeing him yearly with a colonoscopy every 2 years. Then there was the gallbladder full of gall stones that kept me sick and doubled over and had to be removed. The bills started coming in and after $400/mo insurance premiums, co-pays at every visit and insurance paying nothing at all on some of the tests, my medical bills went on the rise. After many lengthy conversations with the Wichita Clinic business office, I was paying minimum payments when I could and I gradually whittled the amount down some. Then an incidental finding of lung spots and thyroid growths was found 6 months ago which then required more testing and now an endocrinologist as well as a thoracic surgeon. The bills again were on the rise.  Add to this the fact that social security cut Z's social security death benefits prematurely when he turned 18 and then continue to inundate me with excuses as to why things happened the way they did and I am not just sinking......I am drowning and going down for the last time. 

In the process of all of this in the last few years, the Wichita Clinic was bought out by Via Christi along with a new hospital being built by Via Christi (St.. Theresa) out west so those in the western part of the county didn't have to drive so far east or have to rush to mid town for an ER. I have a lot of nurse friends at all the hospitals as well as at the clinic and I was told by several that employees (doctors and nurses alike) were not exactly overjoyed when Via Christi took over the clinics and because of this many left. This was evident at our clinic as only one original doctor and one medical assistant remain from before the takeover. One acquaintance and former Via Christi employee called it "an unholy mess where patients were no longer the focus." I found this hard to believe as Via Christi is a non profit hospital who run commercials daily on TV about how their patients come first and parade a plethora of doctors and nurses in front of the screen commenting on how much they care. Some of those doctors are even mine. 

Now before I take this rant one step forward, let me say that the doctors I go to are amazing as is their staff. All of them go above and beyond in patient care and I do feel that my health is their priority when I am one on one with them. These doctors, nurses and medical staff are NOT my issue. However, Via Christi as an entity is! 

Recently Z went to the doctor....his regular Via Christi Clinic doctor and was told that he could not be seen because of "our" past due bills owed to Via Christi. He texted me embarrassed and not knowing what to do as he knew nothing of "my" medical bills. By the time I called the clinic they had already agreed to see him because he is now 18 and no longer my dependent. It just so happened that same day I received a registered letter from Via Christi stating that David nor I could see any doctors in the Via Christi group and specifically named off all of our current doctors. My first reaction contrary to popular belief was not to "go after Via Christi and rip them a new one." On the contrary, I was sure that David's name on this was a mistake. I was not happy not seeing my doctors BUT I was aware that I had a large outstanding balance and I was willing to take the consequences for my inability to pay. So I called the number on the letter and began "nicely" might I add, telling the lady on the other end who I will call "B" about the letter, about Z being told he couldn't see the doctor because of my bill and asking why David was not allowed to see his doctors because of my past due account. I also made sure she understood that the boys had state insurance and had never had an outstanding balance on anything. She then let me know that my inability to pay was the cause of David not being able to see his doctors. I then tried to calmly explain that David was special needs and some of these doctors David had been with since birth, especially his pediatrician. Her reply, "He can go get another doctor that is not with Via Christi," as if it were that easy. For whatever reason that set me over the edge. Few things make me cry but being angry to the point of wanting to strangle someone through the phone for their rudeness and hateful tone, especially when it comes to David, had me clenching my teeth and speaking through tears. I told her if this was the way a non-profit charitable organization conducts business banning a special needs child who owes nothing and will owe nothing to their "business" then maybe the news media might like to hear about this. Immediately her tone changed and she said,
"Let me let you talk to my supervisor."
Of course I was transferred to someones voice mail and I was sure that in order to talk to anyone else I would have to spend hours playing phone tag with people that didn't want to talk to me. 

Low and behold B did call me back to see if I had talked to her supervisor. When I told her I had left avoice mail, she assured me that her supervisor was in a meeting but she would make sure she got back with me. I thanked her but decided not to hold my breath as I wasn't sure I could get any medical personnel anywhere in the state to revive me. Several hours later I was shocked to receive a call from B's supervisor. We shall call her "A". The first words out of A's mouth were that David's pediatrician had called and he would still be seeing David. Great, baby steps. It went down hill from there. She then began to reiterate what B had already said. My lack of paying my bills was hurting David. He was not allowed to see any of his other Via Christi docs. Again I asked why my inability to pay had anything to do with him. Because he is my dependent was the reply. I was in no mood for more cloaked sarcasm and innuendo that I was a bad mother because I was behind in my bills thus my children would suffer. Again I pointed out Via Christi's non-profit charitable status and I was told that it is only the hospitals and does not carry over to the clinics. I called BS on this and she stammered. I then decided to try a different approach so I told her my circumstances and asked if there was help out there to at least decrease the amount owing a bit. Why yes, I could fill out charitable paper work (the same paperwork that I had filled out several times in the past and had been turned down on). I then asked if I was approved if David and I would then be able to see our doctors. Her answer? Oh no because it will only take care of my last six months of bills and that would just be a dent. No, we see no one until our bill is paid in full. Then she threw out the amount of about $6,000 owing. Again she was very condescending and sarcastic but the anger brought no tears this time. Just rage. I brought out the big guns. I let her know that I was fully aware that it was common practice for Via Christi employees to have their family members bills written off. She apparently wasn't expecting that and ask just where I had heard that. I told her from both current and former employees. She didn't deny it she just ignored it. I was beyond angry at this point and decided to fib and tell her that our call was being recorded and so once again I wanted to make sure I had my info straight. When I started repeating back everything she had said she became extremely flustered and started denying half of our conversation, and then she said, "I didn't tell you it was okay for you to record this."
I replied...."That's okay because I didn't ask." 
She then said she was saying no more and I said that is fine...I will just contact the news media and hung up.

I did contact one station who said they would check into it but on further thought I wondered if any local media would get involved because all of them had partnered with Via Christi at one time or another on events. I wasn't surprised when I didn't hear back.

So I called Via Christi back the beginning of the week and got to talk to B again. When she realized who she was talking to you could literally hear a cringe and full body shudder in her voice. My question was simple.....What is my actual total? I had gone through my paperwork and driven myself crazy trying to find a working total so I decided to go straight to the source. Low and behold it was not the $6000 that A had thrown out. It was much closer to $8000 and I pointed this out to B. That did not please her either. I then asked if I claimed bankruptcy what that would do to the account and our status. She said until the total amount is paid in full, we will not be seeing doctors. She said bankruptcy would not allow David or I to be seen. Then she went on to tell me that my actual bill now had been turned over to collections and they were who I would have to pay. She said I could offer them $6000 (silly lady....if only) and they would call her supervisor to see if they would settle for less. I asked, "Would they?"
She promptly said "Not likely!" I was pretty sure it had become personal at this point. The fight was all but gone from me and I hung up.

Honestly I have tried to put it out of my head this last week with David getting his cast off and all, and I have tried to focus on the more positive things in life. Today though it came back full force. David went to see his neurologist who wants blood work done on him to check his med levels. We always do it at his pediatricians clinic. Halfway home it dawned on me that I better call and see if this was still possible. Of course it is NOT! Since David ended up in the ER last night they wanted him to see the pediatrician in the next few days so I decided to make sure that was still a go. The receptionist who is usually so nice, could not have been frostier. I was told after a lengthy hold time that yes he could see the doctor but there would be exclusions to his care that the doctor would have to go over with me. Again I wanted to scream. I held me tongue though and made the appointment.

Why is David being punished for my inability to pay? He has done nothing including ever having an outstanding bill to warrant this treatment. How does Via Christi call themselves charitable? The fact that they connect themselves with the Catholic church just makes me nauseous. Patient care is the last thing this entity is about anymore. They are about $$$. Above and beyond that, their people in account services "A" and "B" specifically are anything but professional. In fact they are rude, hateful, condescending and should be an embarrassment to both the facility and their job titles.

To be perfectly clear, I DO owe the money. I have never tried to say otherwise and though difficult, I do understand them not wanting "ME" to see their docs. However, David is special needs and his doctors can mean the difference between life and death for him and it is imperative that he has doctors that know him, know his history and care about him as a person. He has always had that with his doctors and to suddenly say he can no longer see them or that their hands are tied in his care because "I" can't pay "my" bill and yet he owes nothing is to me horrible. Also, I do not blame any doctor, nurse or medical staff connected with Via Christi because I know that the docs we have were hand picked and are the best. My inability to pay is not their fault and I hold no bad feelings about this for any of them. My complaint is with an entity that claims a non profit charitable status, hides behind the Catholic church and treats innocent people as if their lives were somehow unworthy of respect.

Yes folks it is true. It appears that  the Hippocratic Oath and patient respect and care take a back seat to the almighty dollar at our very own Via Christi. Perhaps someone should remind them just what it means to be a charitable non-profit. I tried and failed.
Addendum 7/25/14

I thought it only fair to make this addendum to the above blog. After much blood, sweat and tears and doing some internet sleuthing to find emails of the top Via Christi heads, I started sending out emails stating my case. I also hit up the Sisters of St. Joseph heads as they are a part of the Via Christi family. Finally in May I received a call that I had been heard. David is now covered again and seeing his doctors and so am I. While I am not crazy about the hoops I had to jump through with Via Christi or the way I was talked to and treated by some of their people, in the end after I refused to give up and let it go....they did come through. 


Anonymous said...

How is this allowed? Why are they not reaching out in Catholic stewardship instead of causing more grief.

I honestly thought that if you claimed bankruptcy that your accounts were cleared and that you could not be turned away. If that is not the case then how do businesses continue to do business after they file bankruptcy?

You should have called A and B out publicly so that the world knows who they are and that the hospital knows just what kind of employees they have.

I am going to share your story and I pray that both you and David get some justice and some peace.


Anonymous said...

I despise Via Christi. They are a nightmare to deal with. They have given me no end of grief over billing. They have double billed me and argued with me time and again on the fact they did this. I feel your pain and if my cardiologist wasn't with them I would never step foot in any of their facilities again. It seems that if you are elderly or impaired that they don't give a damn. Wonderful blog and thank you for making me feel like it isn't just me.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry that this is happening to you. I worked at St. Joe years ago and ended up quitting when patient care began to suffer. I went to work for the Wichita Clinic and worked there for years until Via Christi took over. It was the same patient care as St. Joe was giving only worse and I quit on the spot when I realized this. If you are looking for Via Christi to show compassion or care then give it up because its not going to happen. My best friend hates Via Christi too, with very good reason. She lives just down the street from the new St. Theresa and she has told her family that if she is dying they better take her to Wesley because she would rather die than step inside anything with Via Christi in the title.

Anonymous said...

The Employee write off was taken away a couple years ago. Trust me, Via Christi employees get the same demand payment letters as everyone else.

Becky said...

Hi, Lisa! I was just going to check on you on Facebook and it said your account was deactivated!? I kinda freaked a bit and came over here to read this nightmare! :( I will continue to keep you and your family in my prayers! Have you ever considered doing one of those or type of ways to raise money? People do it everyday for all kinds of reasons. It can't hurt to try! You know our community really gets behind families and after hearing this story, I have no doubt you'd have every one of our community members pitching in!

Anonymous said...

My mother was in the hospital in June at Via Christi St Francis. The experience was awful. They are understaffed, morale appears low, in some areas the hospital is filthy, the wait time for a nurse can be as long as an hour, etc. I could go on and on. I wouldn't take my dog to a Via Christi hospital! I have left the Wichita Clinic doctors due to their affiliation/ownership by Via Christi. What scares me is that Via Christi appears to be attempting to monopolize the health care industry in Wichita.