Piedmont Hospital Sucks

Jennifer writes in how a pain in her eye turned into a real pain in the ass.

Not only was she give substandard service (as she lay wailing on a gurney, unattended, the hospital staff sang “Happy Birthday” to a staff member) but afterwards they sent her no bill.

Great, right?

Nope, then a collections agent started calling and calling and calling. That was the beginning of her horror show. The rest, after the jump…

Jennifer writes:

“Hi, Consumerist. I love your site, keep it up! You say that you exist in large part due to consumer complaints, so here’s one! I was hesitant to send this to you as the complaint is regarding a local hospital here in Atlanta, GA, so may not affect a lot of people. But I’m sure that you have many readers here in Georgia and my new goal in life is to make sure that Piedmont Hospital NEVER “HELPS” another patient again. Here is my problem (I have emails and some paperwork to back this up, should you want to post this or whatever it is that you do).

I went to a general practitioner on November 29, 2005. I had severe pain in my eye. She looked at it for a while and was deeply concerned and said that she wanted me to get an MRI, now. She directed me to the Piedmont Hospital Emergency Room as it was only about 10 minutes down the road. My fiance and I proceeded there and told the ER staff what was going on. They said to wait. We did. After about an hour, the rest of the ER was empty but we were still sitting there. My fiance asked if we would be seen soon. We were told ‘momentarily’. After another hour we were still sitting there, alone. We went up and asked what was going one (still very polite at this point). The nurses looked at each other, puzzled, they responded ‘ the MRI techs go home at 5, you can’t get at MRI now’. We had, I should point out, arrived at almost exactly 5. Thus began the fiasco of my life. Shortly after that they let me in, because I was bawling and nearly fainting from pain. They never gave me a room, I lay on a gurney in the hall, across from an empty room. After hours in the hallway, and various people coming up every 45 minutes apart to do random tests that they never explained or described the purpose of to me, they sent me home with a prescription for Vicodin and a diagnosis of (now remember, that my complaint was ‘eye pain’ ) “EYE PAIN”!

The entire time that I was there, I was treated like garbage on the soles of their shoes and at one point there were two empty ER rooms and I still never got a room. At another time the doctors and nurses all gathered to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of their own, ignoring me lying there on the gurney, crying and shaking. It was horrendous. We were so thrilled to get out of there. That was bad enough, but we were scared at what the bill would be since they had given me a CT scan (without ever asking, by the way, just wheeling me down and lying me down on the machine until I finally asked what they were doing). It was shortly before Christmas so when the bill didn’t come for a while we figured that it would just come eventually.

The bill never came, and to be frank, we forgot. Who wouldn’t? We don’t pay pills without statements, it wouldn’t be prudent. Toward the end of March 2006, around 4 months after my visit. A collection agency, which never gave me its name, but came up on my call display as ‘HCA’ began calling. I explained, very nicely to a woman named Ms. Head that I had never gotten a bill. She said, and I quote ‘that happens all the time with Piedmont’. So, I told her that I had had problems with the service at the hospital, but that the first step would be to get a bill, that I was not even going to consider paying unless I got a bill. She said that she would have them send me one. I never got one. She continued to call me at a rate of once or twice a day until I finally explained the situation again, and again, and again. Finally I started calling the hospital directly and was shunted around from one person to another. Not one of them ever expressed any apology or any empathy at all. Instead, I got a lot of sighs and the impression that I was a big giant pain. After probably 2 dozen calls to the mysterious ‘HCA’ and Piedmont, I finally got a copy of the bill from HCA. It came with a letter that said that this should ‘clear all doubt as to the validity of the account’. I never questioned the validity of the account, I just wanted to see a bill. This statement was sent to me on May 25, 2006, almost 6 months to the day after I visited the ER, it was the first time I had seen a bill from them.

I began to call Piedmont more often, again passed from person to person. None of them ever called me back or even appeared to check on what I was saying. I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and then called a few select people at Piedmont and left messages informing them that the BBB was now involved. After that,a woman who identified herself as Katie, a manager in the business office called twice without leaving a message (I had never talked to this one before), so I called her and left her a message. She called back and was so rude, I wish to God that I had recorded the call, but I didn’t. Her rudeness was overwhelming. She said that I had claimed the account was not mine and that I was never there. I never did that, I was most certainly there. She claimed that a Jeff Klink had tried to call me numerous times but that my line was ‘always busy or no one answered’. That is not possible. We have call waiting, we have voicemail and we have Vonage service which allows us to access a list of every number that has called us. He never called, not once. I told her about Ms. Head at HCA saying that this happened all the time (that people did not get bills) and she was deeply upset and said that she would do something about that. I said that I wasn’t sure of the dates and she said that that was okay as HCA records all its calls. I did not record these calls, but should my claims ever need to be proven, I now know that HCA recorded all of our calls, so my claims can be proven.

I finally told this Katie that maybe if one person there would just offer me an apology, even a fake one, then I would have probably dropped the whole thing. She could not get the words out of her mouth, she tried and I don’t think her brain would let her apologize. She kept referring to the 2800 calls that they got every day. I said ‘ I don’t CARE how may calls you get a day! I am one person and I want help!’. Nothing. Finally, she said that she could offer me a 40% discount. I told her that if she had just called politely, aplogized and offered me that, I would have taken it. But she was so utterly rude and dismissive that that was not enough. (let me point out at this point that the original bill was only $865. A fortune for me, but obviously nothing for them). She said that now she was going to pass the complaint off to the ER. I have no earthly idea why, since she is a manager there, but that was the next step.

I explained all this to the Better Business Bureau when I contacted them, and they sent a shorter version of this story to Piedmont. My email to them began like this “I went to the Piedmont Hospital Emergency room on 11/29/05”. Piedmont sent them this delicious response “We have reviewed the charges and emergency face sheet as per protocol when the patient states that the incurred charges are not theirs, by all indications the current service was billed correctly. If you still dispute that the charges are not yours…” In other words, they either never read the complaint or they are trying (STILL) to give me the runaround. They never even remotely addressed the issue at hand. I wrote the BBB back with the same version of my story, but with more details and they are going to send it along to Piedmont. But, the BBB advised me, there is only so much they can do. If the company in dispute wants to be belligerent, they can.

So, now I’m turning to you! I want this bill to go away, but even if I can’t (I’m going to work damn hard at it though) I want other people to know that Piedmont does not care about them, at all. In any way. They are soulless.”