Respectfully Engaging with the Hospital

Concerns about leadership at TFH

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By Stephanie Bacon

Am I, are we, powerless? Should we accept the nonsense? Like many of you, I have been trying to make sense of our healthcare system. I had two trips to the Tahoe Forest Hospital emergency room this winter and spring for the same condition. The first visit cost $1,619.19 and the second cost $3,522.50. This fee was shocking, since on the second visit, I told them what exactly the problem was and how it was solved previously.

When I reached out to the hospital asking why the second visit was over double the cost of the first, I was deferred to three different departments within the TFH health system that are set up to “deal” with issues like mine, and there was no movement. After a “quality review” of my care, it was deemed to be an “appropriate” service and fee assessment by hospital staff. I paid my bill to avoid the threatened late fees. Then, I wrote a letter to Harry Weis, CEO, and the elected members of our hospital board of directors hoping for a sensible remediation of the bill or lack of follow up care and/or possible refund. As you may have guessed, my letter got me nowhere.

Let me preface the rest of this piece with a very important caveat. The individual medical professionals and office staff that I have encountered at TFH are truly wonderful, caring, thoughtful, intelligent, and hardworking humans who have treated me and my family with tremendous respect, kindness, and caring. My primary concern is about our national healthcare crisis and the role of the Tahoe Forest Hospital system and leadership, as it exemplifies the ills plaguing our healthcare system.

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As I am sure you are aware, our nation has a critical health care problem. Put simply, we (citizens, government, and business) all spend too much on it, and the money we spend doesn’t yield better results; in fact we get less for our money than all other developed countries.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, “The U.S. spends more on health care as a share of the economy — nearly twice as much as the average [Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development] country — yet has the lowest life expectancy and highest suicide rates among the 11 nations.”

Major reasons cited for the exorbitant cost of healthcare include: unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs, inefficiently delivered services, prices for services that are too high, fraud, and missed prevention opportunities. My 2021 experience at TFH represents each of these diseases of our health care system. I was given unnecessary tests (that were never followed up on); I was filtered through four different layers of administration; I have been unable to see the same physician enough times to have effective prevention conversations; and no one can agree on the cost of services. (It’s a daily battle between providers and insurance companies.)

Naively, I thought I might have some power to negotiate with the hospital to reach an outcome that seemed to make sense: same problem, same treatment, same bill. I reached out to all of the board members, but I received zero response from these people who were elected by our community to represent us.

Mr. Weis did respond; he attempted to quell my concerns with the rationale that I was lucky because he, “had a visit in the Roseville area back in 2017 that was $3,800 and all they did was take [his] vital signs.” Wait, what? Should I feel lucky? Is this what we should measure our quality of care and cost against? He also urged me and other concerned citizens to “respectfully engage in how healthcare really works.”

I am wondering how else I should “respectfully engage.” I read, I vote, I communicate with elected officials, I research, I work, I pay my bills … but I am feeling pretty powerless. I could accept the nonsense and try to stay healthy, but that is not engagement and it certainly won’t do anything to address the tragic state of our health care system.

So, I am “respectfully engaged” in this problem, Mr. Weis. I am trying to communicate with you and our local board members on behalf of people like me, but also the uninsured, those in ill health, those without the time or resources to engage. I’ll continue to read, vote, write, and I will also see you at the next board meeting. Would anyone like to join me?

~ Stephanie Bacon was born and raised in Truckee. Both her parents worked for Tahoe Forest during the 50 years her family has lived in the area. She is raising two boys and currently teaches for TTUSD while pursuing her PhD in literacy and equity at UNR.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Stephanie, how else would you expect Mr. Weis’ compensation of $678,741.81 (as of 2019) to be paid for if not by overcharging you?

    https://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2019/tahoe-forest-hospital-district/

    Imagine going to the grocery store and none of the groceries having any prices? You fill up your cart, go through checkout, get home, cook your meal, but still have no idea what it cost. Then, one or two months later, you finally get a bill showing that you were charged $300 for the loaf of bread that you could’ve bought for $3 elsewhere.

    I ended up having to go the ER of a different hospital earlier this year. I got the bill a couple months later but didn’t pay for it right away. Another month or two later, I get a letter from the hospital stating that they were running a “special” and that if I paid the bill in full I would receive a 30% discount. What kind of f#{ked up system is this!?

    I had to get an MRI done. Called Tahoe Forest only to find out that it would have cost me thousands of dollars and that I would have to pay a fee for someone else who’s not affiliated with the hospital to read it. I then called Reno Diagnostics and paid only a fraction of what TFH wanted to charge me.

    People, unless you have no choice and end up at the ER, do your due diligence and ask what the service costs BEFORE doing anything! Price transparency is the only solution!

    https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/07/02/1012317032/hospitals-have-started-posting-their-prices-online-heres-what-they-reveal

    • Hey JC–thanks for your thoughtful comment on Stephanie’s My Shot. I’m hoping to include as a Readers Reflect comment in our upcoming print edition. If you’re game, let me know your full name and place of residence, as we include that info with letters. -Becca Loux (Moonshine’s digital content editor)

  2. Mr. Weiss needs to resign. It’s just that simple. I’ve never been able to get a clear answer prior to services about billing. Nobody can-ever. If their admin does tell you something regarding billing, it’s never accurate or complete. I’ve spoken with Mr. Weiss directly numerous times and he lacks any sort of compassion or understanding of what patients deal with. He refuses to even listen or respond to multiple messages. He KNOWS the system is broken and has told me that ‘they need to do better’. That’s exactly what the previous CEO told me ten years ago when seeking help with my hip. In that instance I had in writing from the billing department that I had met my deductible and was ‘100% covered’. Only to be billed by radiology which was ‘out of network’. Again, I asked all of this prior to treatment-luckily I had that in writing but I had to fight the system and was told ‘you have to understand that radiology bills separately’. I pushed back hard because I had gone over all of this with billing. The end result was an in person meeting with the interim CEO. She also told me ‘we need to do better’. She waived the bill-because I had everything in writing and she realized they messed up big time. TFHD has not changed, they are not doing better. In my opinion they are either corrupt or totally incompetent or both. One thing is certain; change of leadership and full transparency is badly needed.

    It’s sad because in general the working medical staff is amazing. I even volunteer with my certified therapy dog making visits to the cancer center and senior facility and I’m still treated like garbage. I recently had my medical records transferred to a new doctor. I’ve asked over and over again for a call from admin to discuss. They can’t even manage that. Anyone that has ever been to THFD gets slammed with bills they weren’t expecting. I know the medical system is very challenging, however a patient should have the right to know what they will be paying out of pocket before seeking treatment, not after.