Officials: We’re not getting whole story on Memorial facility fees

Officials: We’re not getting whole story on Memorial facility fees

PAWTUCKET – City officials say they don’t believe they are being given the whole story on facility fees being charged at an express care clinic opened at Memorial Hospital after the hospital’s closure at the beginning of the year, saying they’re now considering next steps.

Residents have complained about the fees of late, saying they’ve been told these are facility fees being charged for upkeep. It wasn’t immediately clear how much money each patient is being charged, but one resident said his bill was for $140. Hospital officials have said that number seems high and it could include other fees.

Fire Chief William Sisson notified Mayor Donald Grebien on Oct. 4 about an increase in service fees to patients utilizing the urgent care facility at 111 Brewster St.

“Patients are now charged a clinic fee or facilities fee,” he wrote. “The added cost to patients will have a detrimental effect not only financially but also on their health and safety.

“I am concerned that patients may be inclined to not seek the needed health care and treatment they require due to an increase in fees,” he added. “Many of our citizens are not able to pay an increase for service.”

Sisson said Memorial Hospital previously did not charge a clinic fee, and that these fees were added once Care New England took over management of the clinic. Patients only learn about the cost once they receive their bills, he said.

Grebien spokesman Wilder Arboleda said Monday that officials are aware of the situation. Health care remains of utmost importance to the administration, he said, “and we will not tolerate hidden fees to our residents."

“We are a bit confused as to how Care New England states that they have always billed professional and technical fees, yet, at the same time, were not always billing and collecting for the services,” he said. “We do not believe that we are being given the entire story and are working to identify the next steps.”

In an Oct. 23 letter to Grebien from James Fanale, president and CEO of Care New England, Fanale said hospital officials take these concerns very seriously as they continue to provide care to residents of Pawtucket and Central Falls.

The fee issue also raised in a separate Oct. 9 letter from Arboleda, in which Arboleda cited “numerous complaints” from constituents of Sen. Sandra Cano, Representative-elect Karen Alzate, and Councilor Albert Vitali Jr., Fanale said the concern is related to the express care clinic. The walk-in area of the clinic is not classified as an urgent care clinic, he said, and the clinic opened after Memorial Hospital closed, meaning there was no billing related to this particular practice prior to that.

Fanale said Memorial Hospital and CNE have for years billed professional and technical fees. As part of a review, officials noted that the effectiveness and proficiency of billing and collections was not up to par, he said, and neither Memorial nor CNE were always billing and collecting for all services provided. Fanale directed further questions to Ernie Fusaro, vice president of revenue cycle.

Fusaro told The Breeze Monday that the fees being discussed were fees Memorial had charged, but said they weren’t being charged consistently between insurers.

“That’s why people are probably seeing it for the first time,” he said. “We have to charge everyone identically. All we’re trying to do here is be consistent and compliant with the rules. Because of that, people are probably seeing the fees they never saw before.” These fees were always in place, he said, but were previously only charged to Medicare patients. Commercial insurers have now been billed for more than a year, he said.

Fusaro said hospital officials understand the concerns of the public, but said this type of facilities fee, along with a physician’s fee, is common. The fact that it wasn’t being charged in all cases is part of the reason Memorial Hospital was in the shape it was in, he said.

Fusaro said he isn’t entirely sure what the total fee total is. Asked if the fee became necessary to maintain the hospital facility after CNE’s request to board up the facility was rejected, Fusaro said every company or organization is looking to try to cover costs, and this is “not necessarily to take care of costs for a boarded-up place.” But yes, he said, “it helps to cover costs we will incur to keep it open.”

The Rhode Island Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review ruled in September that CNE had to continue heating the closed Memorial Hospital facility and to maintain security in the building.