Board members and hospital administration discuss hospital issues at a May 24 meeting. (left to right) Board Trustee Michelle Miller, HGH Information Technology Director Mike Bell, HGH CEO Tim Powers, Board Chair Alicia Cramer, Board Trustee JoAnn Casalez and Board Trustee and Humboldt County Commissioner Ken Tipton.
Board members and hospital administration discuss hospital issues at a May 24 meeting. (left to right) Board Trustee Michelle Miller, HGH Information Technology Director Mike Bell, HGH CEO Tim Powers, Board Chair Alicia Cramer, Board Trustee JoAnn Casalez and Board Trustee and Humboldt County Commissioner Ken Tipton.
Humboldt General Hospital CEO Tim Powers and Humboldt General Hospital District Board of Trustees members and administration acknowledged and expressed concern with reported hospital issues last week at a public meeting community feedback town hall hosted by HGH. 

Specific incidents reported by community members include lab results being lost that  hadn’t been recovered since the health fair on May 13, billing statements received nearly a year (11 months) following a procedure, inaccurate billing statements, negative experiences in customer service in billing and the lab, and beds not working properly. 

The special meeting agenda drafted by the hospital read, “This is a special event for the Hospital District Board of Trustees and the Humboldt General Hospital Administrative staff to receive comments, questions, ideas, and suggestions in an ongoing effort to better understand patient experiences with the goal of making improvements to the delivery of health care services and ensuring positive patient experiences.”

The meeting was held on Monday, May 24, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. with all trustees present. 

One citizen told board members that while in the hospital for approximately a week for a hip replacement surgery, he was in a bed that was not functioning properly, both before and after his surgery. 

He said that he just received a bill for care he received at the hospital June 2020, and previously called to inquire about his pending bill and received a phone call back over a week after calling and leaving a message without resolution. 

Another resident who attended the health fair hosted by HGH two weeks prior paid for her labs to be completed and was still awaiting results. She said hospital staff in the lab department had not been able to find her results as of that meeting and that she had been sent between the lab and medical records department looking for results. 

The same resident said she was treated for COVID-19 last year and received a bill, even though she said she knew that the treatments should be paid for with CARES Act funding, a still unresolved issue. 

More than two residents complained that the billing process was slow and inaccurate. Both citizens who called the third party billing company and internally to the hospital billing department said they received calls back more than a week later if at all and with limited to no resolution of billing issues and questions.

“Thank you for the feedback as much as it is hard to hear,” said HGH Chief of Staff Richard Davis, M.D. to one of the members of the public who presented billing concerns. “The process has to be improved, that's for sure.”

Hospital board trustee members brought up concerns that they had personally experienced and that they had heard from citizens, including the billing and bed issues. 

Hospital board trustee and commission representative Ken Tipton expressed concern with his own experience with a medical order from another hospital being lost.

“There’s a breakdown between our front desk and billing and it’s horrible when you call this hospital for billing you usually get turned over to voicemail and if you do get to talk to someone you get the runaround,” said Tipton. “We have a breakdown and it's big.” 

Trustee Michelle Miller said she wanted to see the exact number of billing calls coming into the HGH billing office each day, and chairman JoAnn Casalez said she would also like to see how each of those calls are being handled, if at all. 

“Even if you don’t have the answer to your customer they deserve a call back at least the next day at the very latest,” said Tipton. “If you don’t have the answer, call the customer back and let them know that you don’t have the answer but that you’re working on it, and actually be working on it.”

“Either we are not performing properly or we are not providing functional conditions,” said Miller. 

“And if that’s the case then who is responsible,” said Casalez. “It’s negatively impacting our customer service and what Humboldt General Hospital is all about.” 

“Well if we’re looking to bring the billing department back here we need to be ready to handle it,” said Miller. 

Powers acknowledged the value in being able to handle billing problems appropriately inhouse, something that is in the process of transitioning from being outsourced to being handled within HGH, a process tentatively scheduled for completion by the end of the year. 

“To all your points, there’s a need for process review, volume, process protocol,” said Davis. 

Hospital administration and board members discussed the idea of holding a community information gathering forum once quarterly to continue to hear feedback from the community and learn what processes have the opportunity for improvement. 

“The goal is to be able to provide an outcome for the patient that they understand and can live with and that we can live with as a hospital,” said Powers. “It’s disturbing to hear these kinds of stories, obviously we have some work to do.”

HGH began offering cardiology services in early May 2021, with plans to open a catheterization lab in late summer and expand the orthopedic services within the next year. 

“We want to decrease the number of local residents leaving our community for orthopedic care,” said Powers. “We’re also exploring a plan to relocate the EMS barn off campus, which would allow services such as oncology and additional services to be added.”