March 6, 2011; Source: The News Leader | Augusta Health, a nonprofit hospital in Fisherville, Va. is taking more and more people to court for unpaid bills.

While acknowledging that the lack of payments have more to do with unemployment and the economy’s effect on the self-employed than anything, and even though the hospital’s excess in revenues over expenses in 2009 had jumped sixfold over the previous year, the hospital has increased its collection efforts against local people hanging on for dear life financially and now weighed down with medical debt.

To be fair, the hospital seems to have taken a good number of the recommended steps when there is a question about whether the charity care pool is being fully utilized. In the last few years, the hospital has added financial counselors in the emergency room, outpatient surgery, and an outpatient MRI/CT department.

It says it has taken many steps to inform patients of the resources available to them. But, as one self-employed man who owes $67,000 to Augusta Health suggests, sometimes people have every intention of paying and then life and the combination of the economy and emergency health problems intervene. He does not fault the hospital which he says has tried to give him a break on the bills but they have simply overtaken him given his recent heart attack and prostate cancer and the decline in his business which is connected to local construction.

Another example of the economy creating the need for very real budget and program adjustments in nonprofits of all kinds. Articles like this in local papers can’t help but make the citizen wonder what the tax exemption is based upon. —Ruth McCambridge