Report: St. Joseph Hospital Uses Ruthless Debt Collection Practices

Tacoma hospital claims to serve the poor but uses aggressive methods to collect debt

Tacoma, Wash. – Washington Community Action Network (Washington CAN!) released a report, Indentured Servitude: Wage and Bank Account Garnishment for Medical Debt at CHI Franciscan St. Joseph Hospital, that outlines the destructive debt collection practices used by St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma. The hospital claims to be committed to serving the poor and doing no harm, but uses tactics of lawsuits, reporting to credit bureaus, and garnished wages when patients are unable to pay.

“Many of these patients are barely able to make ends meet before being sued and having their wages garnished,”said Washington CAN! Co-Executive Director Mary Nguyen. “The effects of these actions by St. Joseph can be devastating to them and their families and we know low-wage workers and people of color are disproportionately affected by medical debt.”

Washington CAN! field canvass team surveyed nearly 300 residents in the neighborhood around St. Joseph Hospital and found 53% of those surveyed did not even receive a bill in the mail before being sent to collections. It’s a telling survey result that could point to the practice of collections as an automatic result of care. They survey also found 54% of respondents sent to collections were not told about financial assistance, also called charity care, even though the hospital has a charity care program.

“After I had to have a hysterectomy, I had huge bills that I could not pay and my wages were garnished,”said Washington CAN! member Ginny Parham who was treated at St. Joseph. “In the end, I had to file for bankruptcy.”

Bankruptcy is often a route people in medical debt are forced to take to avoid having their wages garnished when they are already struggling to stay ahead. Bankruptcy has many long-lasting consequences including preventing car ownership, home ownership and having a credit card that could be used in emergencies.

“Last year I fell and couldn’t get up and an ambulance took me to St. Joseph. After an examination a doctor told me I was probably bruised.”said Washington CAN! member Maria de Jesus Lozano. “I got a bill for $7,000 without even having any major procedures. Now, I’m in collections.”

The report makes the following recommendations for St. Joseph Hospital:

  • Stop garnishing wages and seizing money from bank accounts. This practice contributes to financial and employment instability.
  • Stop reporting to credit bureaus. The impact of damaged credit scores affects patients’ ability to obtain housing, buy a house or car and blocks resources for financial stability.
  • End all contracts with collections agencies and conduct billing in-house with staff that is more inclined to uphold the St. Joseph’s values.

Seattle Renters Celebrate a Victory in the Fight for Housing Justice

Seattle City Council Today Passes a Bill that Reforms Move-in Fee Requirements

SEATTLE – Washington Community Action Network (Washington CAN!) today celebrates a victory with the community after the Seattle City Council votes to approve legislation that puts a cap on move-fees (security deposit, nonrefundable fees, and last month’s rent) when renters lease a unit. Council Bill 188817 also allows renters to pay these fees in installments in lieu of one large, up-front payment that’s currently required.

“This win today shows how important it is to organize around issues that will actually make a difference in the lives of low-income communities and communities of color in Seattle,”said Washington CAN! Seattle Organizer Xochitl Maykovich, “Seattle City Council has made a good step towards bringing housing justice to the city by passing this legislation.” A coalition of dozens of organizations, such as the Seattle Education Association, testified in support of this legislation.

Washington CAN! has organized around this issue throughout the past year. Washington CAN! released a report on Seattle’s housing crisis in July after conducting a survey with more than 300 Seattle renters. Survey respondents shared their personal experiences regarding economic evictions, substandard housing, and housing discrimination. Results showed 87% of respondents cited high move-in fees as the biggest barrier to finding affordable housing in Seattle.

Six councilmembers voted the bill out of committee last month after working on this legislation for several weeks. Councilmember Gonzalez introduced amendments at the committee hearing to add anti-retaliation measures to the legislation.

“This amended bill ensures that more low-income workers can live in the community where they work. Exorbitant move-in fees should not be the factor that determines whether you live in a home versus out on the street,”said Councilmember Lorena González. “I’d especially like to thank the organizers who helped amplify the voices of those who struggle to even apply for rental housing. This is a vital step toward increasing equity and affordability in Seattle.”

“This is a great win for people in Seattle who are struggling to move into housing,”said Washington CAN! member Gina Owens. “I’m happy the council recognized the disparity and passed a bill that will mean a lot to low-income people who just want a decent roof over their heads.”

Council Bill 118817 goes into effect early in 2017.

Washington CAN Endorses Orange for 17th Legislative District Representative, Position 1

Don WCANSEATTLE — July 27, 2016 — Washington Community Action Network (Washington CAN) has given its endorsement to Don Orange for State Representative in the 17th Legislative District, position 1. Orange has been a progressive voice for small business in the Vancouver area for many decades.

“We’re thrilled to give our endorsement to our long-time ally Don Orange,” saidWashington CAN Co-Executive Director William Daley. “His values are right on par with what we are fighting for and his strong voice will be an asset when it comes to setting policies in our state.”

Orange, owner of Hoesly Eco Auto & Tire in Vancouver, has been a long time member Washington CAN’s co-organization, the Main Street Alliance of Washington that advocates for small business. Orange has been an avid supporter of raising the minimum wage in Washington state. He has also fought for other progressive issues including corporate tax reform, fighting the proposed oil terminal in Vancouver and protecting small businesses from predatory lending. He has addressed the state legislature on several occasions to represent the voice of small business on these and other public policy issues.

“I’m honored to have the support of this group that leads the fight in so many important battles,” said Orange. “They know that our progress on all major issues depends on our ability to unite and force the world’s wealthiest corporations to actually pay taxes.”

Washington CAN has a strong following in the 17th legislative district that spans eastern Vancouver and parts of southwest Clark County.

“It’s very challenging to support a family on minimum wage and very few opportunities to make more money,” saidWashington CAN member and Vancouver resident Juan Estrada. “Having Don Orange’s passion and energy in our state legislature will bring a fantastic new dynamic to the fight for a higher minimum wage.”

Orange plans to continue his fight to raise the minimum wage in Washington, fund education, close unfair, harmful corporate tax loopholes, and to put a complete stop to the attempt of the fossil fuel industry to enter the Northwest into a dirty oil region. He also hopes to bring a small business perspective to the legislature.

Emotional Stories from Family Members of the Imprisoned Accentuate Forum

Legislative Forum on Mass Incarceration Pushes for Change

A legislative forum in Tacoma Monday was highlighted by stories from mothers, spouses, and sisters of people in prison who spoke of the impact of mass incarceration on their families. Mass incarceration has severe impacts on Pierce County because it’s where 60% of the state’s convictions originate. One mother told of the financial and emotional burden that comes with supporting her imprisoned son.

“My son was sentenced to 99 years in prison a week after his 18th birthday and he is not the same person he was,” said Ginny Parham. “It costs me about $200 for a trailer visit, which is money I can barely afford.”

The forum was moderated via telephone by Parham’s son, Willie Nobles, a man who is serving a life sentence in Clallam Bay Corrections Center. Nobles is the treasurer of the Black Prisoners’ Caucus and the Vice-President of TEACH, a prisoner-led college.

“Mass incarceration is a major problem in this country, and particularly bad in the state of Washington,” said Nobles over the phone. “This movement for a community review board needs to be a statement. Together we can conquer all oppression.”

In Washington, since the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981, most people with sentences of 15 years to life have no possibility of early release regardless of their behavior. These long-term sentences are starkly racialized: Black people are 4% of the state’s population, but 28% of people with sentences of 15 years to life.

Speakers at the forum advocated for a parole system to be re-introduced in Washington state in the form of a Community Review Board. The board would be made up of diverse community members and would allow everyone to be evaluated after 15 years of prison for the possibility of early release. Statistics show recidivism decreases dramatically after 15 years or more are served.

A call of hands to be raised for those who have family or loved ones in prison led to nearly every hand being raised in the room. Many attendees were overcome with emotion when they shared the names and photos of those loved ones who are currently behind bars.

“My youngest son, my baby, they gave him 17 years. They packed him with more and more charges,” said Glenda Clark. “I work two jobs to support him. I promised him I would be there so I’ve been doing it. I know us coming together as a community will help get them released; we just need to keep fighting.”

The event, held at the People’s Community Center in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, was attended by legislators and legislative aids. Three legislators have pledged to support a proposed policy for a Community Review Board including Rep. Laurie Jinkins, Sen. Jeannie Darneille and Rep. Noel Frame.

Another forum will take place on August 13 at Evergreen College, Tacoma campus.

Washington CAN Gives Sole Endorsement to Pramila Jayapal for 7th Congressional District Seat

jayapal-mugSEATTLE – July 5, 2016 – Washington Community Action Network (Washington CAN) has given a sole endorsement to Pramila Jayapal for the open 7th District U.S. House seat. Jayapal has been a strong voice in the fight for social justice for many decades.

“This was a very easy decision for us,” said Washington CAN Board Chair Deana Knutsen, “She has been an energetic, vocal and consistent advocate for immigration reform, living wages and reproductive justice, just to name a few.”

Jayapal, who is currently a member of the State Senate, was a leader in Seattle’s fight to raise the minimum wage and led the fight against xenophobia and racism after 9/11. She founded the group “Hate Free Zone” which is now called OneAmerica, the state’s largest immigrant rights group.

“I’m honored to receive this endorsement from my long-time supporters at Washington CAN,” said Jayapal. “I have worked alongside this organization in the movement and admire what they have accomplished. I am proud to have their sole endorsement.”

Washington CAN’s membership includes more than 28,000 members in the 7th Congressional District. The district spans northwest to Shoreline and Edmonds, southwest to Burien and Vashon Island, and through most of Seattle.

“Pramila has a great track record of getting things done,” said Washington CAN member Joelle Craft. “I’m impressed with her work in the State Senate; she would be a great asset to Washington state in DC.”

Jayapal plans to continue her fight for immigration reform. Her other priorities include living wages, tuition-free college and preventing cuts and expanding Medicare and Social Security.