Lawsuit alleges Yakima Regional Medical Center denied charity care

YAKIMA, Wash. -- It's supposed to be a place a refuge. But, the plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed against Yakima Regional Medical Center say it's not there for everyone.

The complaint alleges the hospital violated the state's Charity Care Act by not providing adequate services to low-income patients.

"When somebody's in such a vulnerable place, when someone has a really important medical need and they're asking for help, I don't think it's proper for the hospital to throw up barriers to those people," said Andrea Schmitt, attorney for the plaintiff.

The named plaintiff in the case is Angela Lopez. She was a patient at Regional in November 2011. Court documents maintain the hospital asked her for a thousand dollar deposit despite the fact the she was poor and didn't have insurance. Lopez delayed surgery and borrowed money to cover her medical care. She found out she qualified for charity care, but claims the hospital refused to refund her deposit.

I spoke with Jackie Jackson, a former financial counselor at Regional. She said, "We were not to mention the word...we as the upfront people in admitting or in the financial counselor mention charity until after they received their first bill. So we weren't to bring it up."

Jackie said the system short-changed indigent patients. "I do feel they made it so difficult in the end that we couldn't help the people that need the help."

The complaint also attaches two reports from the state. One that shows Regional provided charity care to only 385 patients in 2011. At the same time, Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital handled more than 28,000 cases.

The plaintiff's attorney says the her goal is clear: "Justice first and foremost would be that Yakima Regional accept its responsibility to the low-income community in Yakima and begin to follow all of the charity care laws in the state."

To get both sides, I reached out to Yakima Regional Medical Center, but a spokeswoman said the hospital doesn't comment on pending litigation. I also called the hospital's attorneys, but my calls weren't returned.

In Yakima, Samina Engel, Action News.