Healthcare system still suing patients after being sold

A healthcare system in Tennessee is still suing patients for uncollected debt even after it’s been sold and some of its facilities were repurposed by the buyer. 

Tennova Healthcare-Lebanon, a two-campus hospital facility, was previously owned by Community Health Systems, a publicly traded Tennessee-based company, before it was purchased by Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2019. The health system sued more than 1,000 patients for unpaid medical bills over the past two years, according to NPR.

The suits were filed even as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and many other healthcare organizations put off pursuing unpaid bills amid mass layoffs in the job market. Community Health Systems, on the other hand, still pursued debts as it continued its corporate downsizing, dropping from 200 hospitals to 84. Community Health Systems sued at least 19,000 patients for unpaid bills during the COVID-19 pandemic, one study from CNN found.

“The selloff helped stabilize the company after taking on massive debt during a period of rapid growth that briefly gave Community Health Systems more hospitals than any other chain in the country,” NPR reported. “But now many of those institutions are like zombie hospitals—little more than a legal entity still taking patients to court even after being sold to new owners that don't sue over medical bills.”

Vanderbilt, by contrast, has stated it does not take patients to court for unpaid debt. Tennova Healthcare-Lebanon no longer exists as a hospital—the facility was renamed Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital at the time of the acquisition.

However, the brand is still pursuing patients—but also facing pressure from patient advocacy groups to change this practice. 

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