As union protests layoffs for billing problems, Ogdensburg hospital cites huge financial losses

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 4:27 PM EDT
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OGDENSBURG, New York (WWNY) - Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center’s billing issues are costing the hospital $15-to-$20 million a year. That’s according to CEO Rich Duvall, who also reveals the federal government has been investigating the hospital’s billing procedures.

This comes as the union fights back, speaking out for 41 of its members who are losing their jobs.

One of those workers is Alice Tynon, who was employed at the hospital for 47 years.

“This place means a lot to me. I was proud to walk in the halls. I took pride in working here,” she said.

Tynan and 40 other union workers were laid off this week from the hospital’s billing and coding departments.

Hospital officials say it was due to patient complaints about billing errors over the past couple of years. Claxton-Hepburn says it has seriously undermined the hospital’s financial position.

“I just got a job evaluation 2 weeks ago and nothing was ever mentioned about me not doing my job correctly,” said Tynon.

The workers are represented by Local 1199 Upstate of the Service Employees International Union. They protested the job cuts outside the hospital on Wednesday.

The union says the way the hospital handled the layoffs was wrong.

“Didn’t even have the courage to come and face the members on Monday and tell them, each and every one of them, that they are losing their jobs,” said Helen Wallis, administrative organizer, 1199 SEIU Upstate.

The union argues that workers weren’t properly trained. Hospital administration says it has attendance records that show that the claim is false.

“I’m not blaming any one biller, any one registration clerk, any one scheduler. This is truly a break in that entire process,” said Duvall.

Duvall, who became CEO in late 2019, says he noticed billing problems right away and immediately reported it to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which opened an investigation.

Duvall believes the billing errors are costing the hospital $15-to-$20 million a year. He said he doesn’t think there is any criminal wrongdoing, but for the hospital to survive, the problems need to be fixed.

“We’ve always delivered excellent clinical care, so now we just need to get this office function, if you will, the revenue cycle function corrected and functioning properly,” he said.

The hospital has decided to outsource its billing to an outside company.

However, the union says management should take the fall.

“Those experts have been here for 2 years. Why haven’t they figured the problems out? No response,” said Mary Wilsie, 1199 SEIU Upstate area director.

Wilsie says the union will continue to fight to restore the workers’ jobs.

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