St. Vincent says debt collection letter sent in error

Jayme Polet

INDIANAPOLIS - The hospital bills are piling up for victims of the state fair tragedy, and to add even more insult to injury one hospital is already taking aggressive action to get money from a 17-year-old seriously hurt in the stage collapse. A call from 13 Investigates got the hospital to make a change.

"We're going to get through this. It's just been very hard," said Jayme Polet. She suffered through a fractured skull, the death of a best friend and memories she can't forget when stage rigging at the Indiana State Fair fell and crashed down on her head.

At St. Vincent Hospital, healing hands and giving hearts were there for her when her family couldn't be.

"I love them all. They've been so nice to me," said Polet.

Now the 17-year-old has been hit with something else.

"To have a hospital lien being filed was a bit surprising, and a bit alarming. More caution could have been taken to not have this hit them so hard, so quickly," said Polet's attorney, Tony Patterson.

Polet's attorney is talking about a letter from a collection agency and a lien filed September 16th against Jayme's pending share of a $5 million payout from the State of Indiana.

It reads:

"St. Vincent Hospital intends to hold a hospital lien for all reasonable and necessary charges for hospital care."

According to hospital calculations, Polet owes a whopping $178,000 for a 12-day stay. No one's disputing the care she received. Her family had insurance on file.

But less than a month after her release, the hospital lien showed up in the mail from a Greenwood collection agency. The stated purpose was to collect the $178,000 account, saying, "It is our understanding that you incurred this bill due to an accident."

"Typically if you have insurance, there's no need to file a hospital claim, because those bills will be paid. And in this case, that is exactly the circumstance so I'm not sure why they filed the hospital lien because insurance is available," said Patterson.

Under Indiana law, hospitals can and do seek medical payments by placing liens on third parties likely to pay out settlements for accidents.

In Jayme Polet's case, the third party is the Indiana State Fair Commission. Peterson believes caps on state funds fueled the filing, which is supposed to come after failed attempts to collect insurance..

"There's just not enough money to go around," said Patterson.

St. Vincent filed the lien within the 180 days allowed, but says system errors followed.

"We clearly made a mistake here of communicating too quickly," said Chief Financial Officer Marvin White.

"Instead of providing the patient with a request for information letter, we actually sent the patient, incorrectly, a collection letter. And we've modified our process to make sure that does not happen again," said White.

White says St. Vincent's wants to recover some medical costs from what's left from third party settlements like many other hospitals are already doing, but not at the expense of compassion.

"Our mission, as you know, is to heal our patients clinically, but not harm them financially and so we're disappointed that our new process created that issue and we're working to fix that immediately," said White.

Jayme Polet is back home in Cincinnati learning to walk again. Her attorney says the $178,000 doesn't cover her surgeries or doctor bills. He wants to see the state lift the settlement caps.

White says thoughts and prayers are with all the victims of the stage collapse. He tells us the hospital will write off the co-pays of the state fair victims treated at St. Vincent.