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.”


Edit Your Comment

  1. ACurmudgeon says:

    Actually, I believe that there are a lot of viewers in the ATL. I am one, and I thank you for sharing. I have never been to Piedmont Hospital as a patient, but I did travel there recently to act as a legal witness for a friend. This was very important as my friends grandfather was very sick and he needed to transfer power of attorney. We had only just arrived and we were waiting on the Notary when a nurse came and took the grandfather for a test. She said she would be back in 15 minutes. An hour and a half later, he finally came back. Long story short, I felt bad for my friend who had a lawyer sitting and waiting for an hour, had to almost beg the notary to stay. It seemed like his grandfather had disappeared, no one we asked could answer or would find out where he was.
    Oh, and I was not comfortable with the signs everywhere saying that the caregivers are contracted and the hospital is not responsible for thier actions. I won’t be going there if I have a medical problem.

  2. Mary Marsala with Fries says:

    If you haven’t accepted that bill yet (i.e. paid it or agreed that you owed it), I would fight it. They did tests that you didn’t ask for or give them permission to do, and which your doctor had not ordered. You came in for an MRI and never received it. All the time you were there was because of *them*, not you. The most you should have to pay is the doctor’s time for writing the Rx (and I’m not sure I’d pay that either, after what you went through).

    Such a funny thing with hospitals…we say that everybody has the right to medical care, but we won’t provide access to it for everyone. Then we say that it’s a private business, but we won’t hold it to standards or demand service. Really, they’ve got it made — the suits up top get to make out like bandits, and the customers meekly treat them like poor, altruistic nonprofits. Sheesh.


  3. gte910h says:

    Another Atlanta Resident who was actually trying to figure out to go with his new insurance. I am guessing I’m going to head to Emory now instead.


  4. Rock-Ola 443 says:

    I am always aware, of course, that Americans have to pay to go to the hospital, but every time I read a story like that al I can think is “holy shit, Americans have to pay to go to the hospital.”

  5. Ran Kailie says:

    I had a similar incident several years ago with a hospital here in the DC area. My boyfriend at the time had broken his hand punching a dresser (stupid yes but it was the dresser or our stupid roommate), we went to the nearest hospital, and waited forever. He was in excuriating pain with two completely snapped bones in his hand. Long story short it took 6 hours for them to do nothing, not even set it, give him a prescription for medication he can’t take after I specifically told them NOT to give us that. And sent us home refusing to change the prescription.

    I spent two years fighting the $1500 bill. $900 for the emergency room doctor, and the rest for the ER itself. I fought over and over with the hospital, refusing to pay for service that wasn’t rendered and because of the ER doc we had to go over 80 miles away to get his hand fixed.

    The result? Two years of fighting with the hospital and the ER doctor’s billing service and I only had to pay $200 of the original bill. But it took legal threats, and a whole lot of patience.

    Keep on them, but remember it will go on your credit report if they’re using a collection agency, so you might want to make a notation on your credit reports regarding it.

  6. Ben Popken says:

    Capitalist Infidel writes:

    “Hey, I’m not a commenter but I read cases like those about Piedmont hospital, which had their customer service staff making thnigs up and I think I have something that could help. A good solution would be to e-mail them every single time so you have a paper(or at least electronic) trail. That way, everything is recorded and there is less room for them to make things up.”

  7. Special K says:

    Let me preface my 2 cents by saying that I am a 3rd yr medical student who has spent about 100 hours (over the course of a few months) working in the ER of a local hospital. Though this is not a lot of time, its probably more than most people have experienced, or would like to.

    First, ER staff’s forte is related to things like trauma, chest pain, crush injuries and the like. They are not specifically trained to deal with eye pain. (You thought people came to the ER only for really potentially serious illness? Don’t even let me get started…I have seen countless patients come in for hangnail removals, free meals and beds on cold/rainy nights, and drug seekers who are hooked on pain meds, etc.) In my limited understanding of eye pathology, there are very few medical emergencies in which eye pain is a symptom that leads to something serious. ER staff should be able to rule these out, and if they can, their job is pretty much done, they’ll most likely send you home.

    An expert in eye problems, an ophthalmologist, is unlikely to be present at an ER for emergencies, especially at non-Level-I trauma center where the radiology staff go home at 5pm. (Radiology hours like this are definitely not uncommon!) If a fundoscopic exam wasn’t done on you first (one of the ‘weird tests’), they should have. I wasn’t there and you didn’t provide a lot of specifics, but ER’s can get busy enough such that doctors don’t have the time to explain each and every test to the patient. (In theory they would, but lets face it, medicine is c-o-m-p-l-i-c-a-t-e-d! take it from someone who is still learning the ropes!) “Pain” is also a very complicated and scientists are learning more about it every day. It really is a black box at this point. Thus, the diagnosis of eye pain may the best they can do, but it comes with more than that- their diagnosis should indicate that, in their opinion, your eye pain does not have sequelae that will lead to loss of vision or any other serious complications. Could you have determined that for yourself?

    In hindsight, how are your eyes? Have you lost any of your vision? My guess is you’re your vision is what it was prior to the visit, and that the eye pain is gone. Sure the visit was expensive- but you got your answer then are there. If that $860 test had caught and prevented a pathology that would have caused blindness, wouldn’t you say that it was well worth it?

    I can’t say much for the hospital admin, that bit sounds unfortunate. Shame on them.

  8. Ben Popken says:

    Jennifer (the original complainant) writes:

    “Hi there, I can’t comment as I don’t have that access, but I wanted to reply to Special K’s comment as to what I should have expected at the hospital.

    First of all let me make clear – I went to a general practitioner who TOLD me to go get an MRI at that hospital at that moment. I would not have gone if I hadn’t been told to by another doctor. If a doctor looks at me with gravity and says that she recommends an MRI -THAT DAY-, I’m gonna go. I know that people go to ERs for inappropriate reasons, I understand, but I was told to go.

    As for the MRI techs working 9-5 – that is absolutely acceptable! What was not acceptable was that I was told that I would get an MRI even though the techs were leaving as I was being told that. Also, Special K notes that hospital workers don’t always have time to explain each test. The ER was not busy that day, but even if it was, I think I should be told ‘ we’re going to take you for a CT scan now, OK?’, I don’t want a detailed explanation of the test, I just want to be told where I’m being wheeled. As for the fundoscopic exam that Special K mentioned, well it’s not on the bill that I finally got and I don’t know what it is, so I have no idea if I got it.

    My eye pain is most certainly not gone. Just a few days ago I mentioned to my fiance that it was almost a blessing when I cried for some reason because the tears in my eyes helped to alleviate the pain a bit (that’s melodramatic, but absolutely true). I haven’t been able to wear my contact lenses for more than a few hours a week for almost a year now. I would love to go to a specialist to see what his or her diagnois would be, but I can’t do that due to the cost. I never had any problems with my vision. My vision is unchanged. It was and continues to be pain (regardless of the definition of pain, I’m telling you, it is pain) that is the issue.

    Basically, I have no idea if Piedmont did unnecessary tests or anything, that is not my complaint. My complaint is that everyone at Piedmont has treated me poorly, accused me of lying and by all appearances have lied to me numerous times. Not to mention the fact that I got no help for my pain (except one bottle of Vicodin), no bill for my visit, dozens of collection calls and no empathy whatsoever.

    Thanks to the other people who mentioned that they are going to avoid Piedmont now! That’s half of why I wrote in, I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. And thanks also to those who suggest that I continue to fight this bill. I will! “

  9. Anonymous says:

    I am scheduled for surgery at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta in the morning. At my last appointment with the surgeon I was given paperwork that states (and I was told) to call the hospital and have a phone interview 2 weeks to 5 days before the surgery. This would serve as the pre-op visit. Last week I called at least 4 times and each time left all the information that was requested on the voice mail system that also promised a call back from a nurse within 24 hours. Now during all this I was admitted to another Piedmont hospital in the outskirts of Atlanta to help control pain. While inpatient I again called Piedmont Atlanta and left my room information and asked for a call back. Today I was discharged and once home I checked my messages and there was a message from the surgeons office. Apparently Piedmont Atlanta called the surgeon and told them that I was already in the hospital. I called the surgeon and explained what had happened, and his office let Piedmont know. I also called and spoke to a clerk and was told that I should come at the hour noted on the paperwork, and thats its normal not to get a call back for pre-ops. I finally got a call from a nurse late this afternoon and she kept saying that with my admittance to the other Piedmont Hospital that they got confused… Now why is it that they could not pick up a phone and call my room to inquire? Also since my case and this admittance is all paid for by the W/C carrier I gave all this information to the clerk in the ER. The billing office at Piedmont called the house no less than 20 times in 4 days and once today since getting home insisting that my phone was the insurance carriers number. I have now given them all the correct information. I can’t wait to see what other screw-ups are made on this account!

  10. Anonymous says:

    As a lowley, (non nursing) employee of Piedmont let me thank you for post ing this. Piedmont tries so hard to blow smoke up our skirts about how loved they are by the public. They can’t be. The nurses are rude, impatient and argumentative. While the staff I work with, the “Hourly Employees” are all kind and courtious, the “Profesional” employees are not. I have encountered all the same problems as you have. And you don’t want to know how they treat their employees who are having major health issues, or are asking for family medical leave.

    If you have a choice, stay away. If you don’t, I’m sorry the rest of us will do our best for you.

  11. ew says:

    Well, it’s 2010 now and I just wanted to add that I also had an issue with Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta Ga regarding payment for an MRI. They use a nasty collection agency. Plus, after I had an MRI with them, a VERY expensive one I might add, I have since had to have two more MRI’s and I asked my doctor to use a different place because Piedmont was overpriced and used ugly collection agency’s. The co-pay at Piedmont, for my in network provider, was $1200. The co-pay at the new MRI imaging place was just over $100. Piedmont Hospital is, in my opinion, way overpriced and has an awful billing dept. I made a payment over the phone and was trying to work out a payment plan,was told and given the impression that this was fine. The next thing I knew I was getting calls from a collection agency. I should add, I have excellent credit and have NEVER not paid a bill. I have only had one credit card in my life and that was for an emergency car repair and I pain it off in four weeks. I was paying Piedmont $100 a month ($50 every two weeks) and would have paid my account in full in a year. Instead I am dealing with a nasty collection agency. To boot, I have received far superior medical care at another Hospital in Atlanta and it has cost a tenth of what Piedmont has.

  12. AtlLover says:

    When I went to the Piedmont ER the other day I was in shock. The only thing keeping them from a lawsuit is that the doctor was very nice to me, and so was the first girl that checked me in. She was kinda short with me at first but so was I as I was in pain. Later before i got discharged she came to my room to get my insuance info she forgot to get and expained that the long wait times and uncaring staff is normal late at night. They are too busy waiting on shift change to care about any patient, I waited 3-4 hrs to get a room, an hr later saw the doc, then waited for a concelor for a few hrs. As I sit there in pain, dehydrated anxious, kind of panicing, I had to puch the call button for one hour, then finally got out my cell phone called ER and said send my nurse i just need water! All that and wait tens more minutes, herad the phones ringing the whole time, heard her be paged, looked out in the hall and no one around, she finally comes in like did u need something? I say water she says ill ask the doc if you can have some! I said ive been calling u for an hr! She said well no one told me. So so so rude. Ervey time after that it took about 45 mins for her to come in, and i know she knew i needed her each time the ansering service said i will get your nurse. The hospital was so dirty i wanted to leave but could barley walk or drive. I took pictures on my phone, the sheets had stains, the flroors were covered in trash and footprints. The waiting room had broken tables food everywhere empty soda bottles on every table, crumbs and stains on the chairs, homeless guy has eating out of the trash can! It was not even busy i asked how long every hour they said there r 2 beds coming available it will be just a min! Then 2 more people went back who came after me i had been there since midnight, had no sleep in like 36 hours, misses doses of my meds, and they would not give me a thing for the pain and i was s dehydrated they did not care. Had to wait at the window for 10 minutes to be discharged cause the lady was on the phone making a personal call. Then shs didnt even undestand my insurance and was like i guess you will get a bill or you wanta give us something now, i bet she would have pocketed the money. This hospital is a joke and am filing a few complaints.