Hughes/Horseshoe Lake News

Are scammers using old hospital to bilk residents?

Questionable calls have locals on alert Crittenden Regional Hospital has been out of business for nearly two years.

The now-defunct hospital closed its doors and declared bankruptcy in August of 2014. The bankruptcy has been settled, there’s a new tenant set to occupy the building and a new hospital is set to begin construction, so it would seem that the looming specter of the old hospital should be dissipating.

But that is apparently not the case.

In recent days, many residents have reported receiving calls attempting to collect on old Crittenden Regional Hospital bills.

The calls have immediately triggered questions about the legitimacy of a closed hospital expecting payments and whether everything is on the up and up.

“I have people calling me to collect on a CRH bill,” said Whitney Reynolds. “I think it's probably some kind of scam, but they called again today, and I told them I'd speak to an attorney. I did call one, who informed me that they're calling me from a ‘scrambled’ number, and, if they call me back, to try to get contact information from them, but do not pay them.

It may be perfectly legit.

Just thought I'd warn others if it turns out not to be.”

While purchasing old debt for pennies on the dollar and then trying to collect is a practice collection agencies frequently utilize, there is reason to be skeptical, considering many questions surrounding the hospitals handling of insurance and other financial matters in its final days of operation.

“My granddaughter worked for Crittenden Hospital until it closed its doors,” said James Wilson.

“During the last year or so of her employment, the hospital kept money from her check to make health insurance payments. She had a accident and had to go into the hospital. This is where she first found that the insurance payments were not being made. Now over a year later she received a letter from a collection agency in Houston, wanting her to pay $442.00 for a hospital bill. Her response was the same as mine. Who is the money going to since the hospital is closed and bankrupt?”

While the hospital is, indeed, closed, there may be doctors who were working for Crittenden Regional who may have billed through their private practice or the Methodist network who are still practicing and are owed money.

Ashley Thornburg offered some practical advice on the Marion Police Department’s Facebook page.

“You can call the trustee number for the hospital,” she said. “I got it from Denny Sumpter’s office. I had to do it also on a $55 bill I had. The sad thing is that most of the doctors were never paid, now they are trying to get there money personally through collection agencies. If you think you owe money just call trustees.”

Another tip, this one from Amanda Beck: “Get the name of the agency. Then check with the Arkansas State Board of Collection Agencies and see if they're licensed and bonded in Arkansas. If not, file a complaint. Even if they are, you can file a complaint if you don't owe it and they're harassing you.”

In these days where scams are rampant on the Internet and over the phone, it’s prudent to be cautious. Request an itemized paper bill, consult with a legal professional, and check with your insurance company about any questionable balances before giving personal financial information to anyone claiming to represent a legitimate attempt to collect a debt. To contact the Arkansas State Board of Collection Agencies, call (501) 376-9814.

By Ralph Hardin