Community Health Systems' billing under fire as it battles unions in two states

Community Health Systems Inc. (CHS) is involved in contentious union contract negotiations in at least two states--with nurses at one Pennsylvania hospital crying foul over billing policies and healthcare workers at two Washington state hospitals authorizing a one-day strike.

In the midst of long-running negotiations with CHS, nurses at Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) General Hospital, part of the Wyoming Valley Health Care System, have accused the Franklin, Tenn.-based hospital operator of instituting a point-of-service billing policy that puts them in the middle of the billing process--and potentially harms patients.

Last year, Wilkes-Barre began color-coding patient charts red or green. Sounds innocuous, but "patients with red stickers are unable to leave until they can be pressured to turn over money or a credit card," nurse and union leader Fran Prusinski told the Citizens Voice. In addition, nurses often have to take the red-stickered patients to the billing office to talk to a financial counselor. "That's demeaning to us and possibly quite harmful to our patients, who are already under great stress," she charged.

Involving nurses even peripherally in the billing process could have "serious ethics issues," Patrick Tully, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy and medical ethicist at the University of Scranton, told the Citizens Voice. "There's a certain purity to the nurse-patient relationship. This purity is soiled by having to cart patients to billing and making sure they have credit cards. It just seems inappropriate for what nurses are and what they're supposed to do."

CHS didn't respond to FierceHealthFinance's request for comment by deadline. Wilkes-Barre provided the following written statement to the Times Leader: "Because the hospital respects the collective bargaining process, it is our practice not to discuss these matters publicly. We remain committed to good faith bargaining and hope a mutually acceptable agreement can be reached soon."

Meanwhile, healthcare workers at Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center in Washington state have voted to hold a one-day strike over alleged unfair labor practices, reports the Spokesman-Review. The vote followed 20 months of unfruitful contract negotiations between CHS and Service Employees International Union Local 1199NW. The healthcare workers, which include more than 1,000 nurses and technical and service workers, will have to provide 10 days notice prior to an actual strike.

To learn more:
- read this article from the Citizens Voice
- read this article from the Times Leader
- read this Spokesman-Review report
- take a look at this Nashville Business Report article