Group files suit against hospital over court actions against low-income patients for unpaid bills

A nonprofit legal group filed a class action lawsuit against Mountain View Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces, alleging that the hospital has illegally sued hundreds of low-income New Mexico patients who should be protected by a new state law from legal action over unpaid bills. According to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the Carlsbad hospital has taken more than 200 people to court in 2021 who earned less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line (a little over $24,000 for a single adult or $53,000 for a family of four). That’s despite Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signing the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act into law last year, which is supposed to protect low-income state residents from having their medical bills sent to collections agencies or court. The firm also named Faber & Brand, LLC – a Missouri-based law firm that Mountain View often hires to pursue legal action against people with unpaid medical bills – as a defendant. The law firm Mountain View keeps on retainer did not immediately return inquiries. 

Hospital spokeswoman Serena Duran said in a statement that administrators “previously implemented policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the law.

Nonprofit alleges legal violations as medical debt lawsuits continue unabated during pandemic

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a 2021 bill into law carving out new consumer protections for people with medical debt. The law required hospitals and debt collection agencies to verify patients’ income level before taking them to court or sending a hefty bill. But some hospitals have routinely failed to do that since the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act took effect in July 2021, according to Nicolas Cordova, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Among other protections, the new law requires hospitals to verify that a patient’s income status doesn’t fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line before taking them to court or sending their unpaid bill to a collection agency like CBF Services or Kryptonite Credit Servers, two of the most prolific debt collection firms working in New Mexico. “I can tell you anecdotally, we know there are hospitals that are not doing that,” Cordova said.

Unanswered questions over hospital debt despite policy changes

When Adriann Barboa’s 14-year-old daughter, Amarisa, needed surgery after contracting appendicitis eight years ago, Barboa wasn’t too concerned about the cost. She had a good job by New Mexico standards, and she had health insurance. So after Presbyterian Hospital rescheduled Amarisa’s surgery for the following morning and suggested that the teenager stay overnight so doctors could keep an eye on her, Barboa consented. The surgery was successful, and the Barboa family went home. “Then I got a bill for $15,000 dollars because it was an overnight stay, and my insurance didn’t cover that,” said Barboa, New Mexico policy director for Forward Together, a progressive health policy nonprofit.

Pandemic burnout exacerbates state’s nursing shortage problem

The hospital was full. People were crammed in hallways, in closets, in a repurposed nursery — everywhere a bed could fit. Nurses, doctors, the whole hospital staff were still scrambling to care for everyone coming into the emergency room. It had been like that for more than a year when a nurse — who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to impact future job opportunities — decided she couldn’t go on like that. She couldn’t keep training other nurses fresh from school who’d never worked in a hospital, and others from out of state who were more experienced, but who knew nothing of Albuquerque, or of that particular hospital.

Restaurant jobs abound. But many in NM want something better to come back to.

SANTA FE —  More than 71 percent of New Mexico residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine. Thousands of restaurant jobs are vacant statewide, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has even offered up to a $1,000 cash payment for workers to come back in July. But according to state unemployment records and a lobbying group for the restaurant industry, restaurant jobs (and many others) still abound — so much so that many eateries have had to cut hours or even close for a day because they can’t find enough people to meet the demand of a public hungry for eating out after months of staying in. “It’s every place. I’m gonna say 98 percent of restaurants don’t have complete staff,” said Carol Wight, executive director of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.