Community Health Systems (CHS), one of the largest hospital chains in the U.S., has filed tens of thousands of lawsuits against its patients in the past year, even as many other hospitals have cut down on suits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CNN reported Tuesday that CHS has filed more than 19,000 lawsuits against patients since March of 2020. The company’s 84 hospitals are mainly concentrated in the South, but it also has locations in Alaska.
According to CNN, in most of the lawsuits that it reviewed, patients did not hire lawyers to fight the claims brought against them and some of CHS’s subsidiaries resorted to garnishing wages.
"I can't think of a worse thing a hospital system can be doing than suing patients for medical bills during a pandemic and a recession," Caitlin Donovan, spokesperson for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, told CNN.
CHS is not the only hospital system to sue its patients, but experts reportedly said that its aggressive tactics were what made it notable.
Spokespeople for three other major U.S. hospital systems — HCA Healthcare, LifePoint Health and CommonSpirit Health — told CNN that they do not sue patients for unpaid bills.
In a statement to CNN, CHS said the lawsuits represented a “small fraction” of the total patients it treats every year.
"Legal action is always the last resort," the hospital system said, adding it only resorts to filing lawsuits "after it is determined the patient appears to have some ability to pay based on credit record and employment status or if the patient has been non-responsive” to attempt to discuss their hospital bills.
CHS also said it does not "initiate litigation against any patient we know lost his or her job because of the pandemic” under a new policy adopted earlier this year.
CNN says that 2020 was the most profitable year in at least a decade for CHS, even without its multiple lawsuits, making $511 million in income after four years of losses. Much of this is due to the more than $700 million in state, local and federal aid CHS received throughout this past year.