Hospital cost shift


To the Editor:

The residents of the Vineyard have long wondered why we have to wait five to six hours to be seen and treated at the Emergency Room at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. There has never been an answer given by the hospital, and that is frustrating. Another question that we have asked is why it costs roughly $800 to walk into the ER and then have to pay $42.50 for a bandage or another $9.50 for a single aspirin.

We have just learned one of the reasons, when the hospital recently reported its financial statements for the last year. The hospital had a daycare program for 14 employees that cost in excess of $100,000. How many local employers here in the Vineyard have the luxury of a daycare center for their employees? I wonder if chief executive officer Tim Walsh runs his own personal household with such disdain and disregard for financial responsibility. Who paid for this daycare center? It was certainly not the 14 hospital employees, but it was us, the local residents who use the facilities of the hospital. Is there no restraint on keeping the cost of medical attention down to a reasonable level?

The hospital reported that they wiped out almost $3 million in bad debt. Mr. Walsh’s explanation was “Bad debts is uncomplicated. Patients come into the hospital and receive care, and then do not pay the bill. It all adds up.” Who pays for this bad debt? It is certainly not Tim Walsh, with his high salary and perks, but it is the local hard-working residents who struggle to pay our insurance premiums that we are required to pay under Massachusetts law.

What do other hospitals or even other business concerns do when they have bad debts? They attempt to earnestly collect them. When one goes to the Emergency Room for any kind of service, a detailed questionnaire is filled out with one’s home ownership and current place of employment. If payment is not made after numerous collection calls, the case is put through the court system to secure payment. It might be an attachment on the equity of the debtor’s real estate or maybe an attachment of the debtor’s wages. This information is not a secret, as it is in the questionnaire filled out at the commencement of the rendered medical services.

The collection of this bad debt would not even cost the hospital anything extra as the terms of the contract provide for collection fees to be added to the overdue account. Upon checking the local court dockets, [I find that] Martha’s Vineyard Hospital does not seem to take this avenue of recovering this $3 million dollars. Like the free daycare center used by just 14 of their employees for a mere $100,000, the hospital just adds the expense of $3 million dollars to those working people who have to pay $800 to walk into the Emergency Room and pay $9.50 for an aspirin.

Last year, the hospital reported the receipt of $48 million for net patient services, and wrote off $3 million dollars in bad debt. Many of us really feel that Martha’s Vineyard Hospital can use a little more effort to collect this $3 million, so that the rest of us do not have to struggle at the end of each month to pay our ever-increasing medical insurance premiums. We all struggled to make our contributions to build our magnificent hospital here in the Vineyard, and so is it not feasible for the hospital to help us to lower the cost of going to the hospital?

Bruce Erickson

Vineyard Haven