Better Solutions for Healthcare

NPR: A Health Care Giant Sold Off Dozens Of Hospitals — But Continued Suing Many Patients

By Blake Farmer

July 26, 2021

Vanderbilt University Medical Center bought the hospital in Lebanon, Tenn., from Community Health Systems in 2019, but the latter is still suing former patients over unpaid medical bills.

Tennova Healthcare-Lebanon doesn’t exist anymore as a hospital. But it still sued Hope Cantwell.

A knock came on the door of Cantwell’s East Nashville apartment early this year. She hadn’t been vaccinated yet and says she wasn’t really answering the door to strangers. So she didn’t.

But then several more attempts came over the course of a week. Eventually she masked up and opened. A legal assistant served her a lawsuit; she was summoned to appear in court.

“I couldn’t believe someone — someone? a corporation? a company? — was doing this during a pandemic,” Cantwell says.

It started with a hospital visit in May 2019.

Cantwell was admitted for a short stay at the Tennova Healthcare-Lebanon facility owned at the time by Community Health Systems, a publicly traded company headquartered in Franklin, Tenn. Her insurance covered most of the stay, but it still left her with $2,700 to pay.

Nearly a year later, she was in a financial position to start chipping away at the bill. She went online to pay but couldn’t find the hospital or its payment portal.

Cantwell did a little Googling and noticed Vanderbilt University Medical Center bought the 245-bed facility around the time of her stay. It’s called Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital now.

Then the pandemic hit. She was furloughed from work for three months. And soon after, a letter arrived. A law firm representing the former hospital owner demanded payment and threatened to take her to court. She wasn’t sure what to do since she couldn’t come up with all the cash. She was in a holding pattern until the knock on the door from the legal assistant.