Karen Watson went to Roxborough Memorial Hospital in June with a bad knee. She left with a bad headache.
The knee problem was arthritis. The headache was caused by the hospital's Froot Loops billing department.
She spent four hours in the ER, received treatment and medicine, and on the way out went to the billing department to pay up.
The bill was $5,830.33, all but $100 covered by her health insurance.
She paid with her credit card — she showed me the receipt. She says the clerk who handled the transaction "told me to make sure to keep the receipt, as there have been horror stories from former patients who are still being billed for payments already made."
Watson admits the prophetic warning didn't mean much to her "until a month later, when I started getting calls not only to my home but at my place of employment." Watson, 52, is the assistant to SEPTA's chief rail transportation officer.
She lives in Germantown, and had chosen the Roxborough hospital because her mother had been well-treated there. Watson says she has no other complaints about the hospital. "Everyone was nice," she says.
Except the billing department, which was spitting out bills like machine gun bullets.
The headache was turning into a migraine and Watson was beginning to get her back up. "I don't mind paying what I owe," she says, "but if you try to grift me, we are going to have a problem."
She suspected that the hospital was spraying out bills, hopeful that the weak-minded would just pay them.
After being billed several times for what she already had paid, Watson called the billing department and reached someone named Gabriella. Hospital policy is to not provide last names.
Watson told me that Gabriella promised "she'd see that that error was corrected and she'd either mail confirmation to me or call me at work once the correction was processed."
Watson called Gabriella again Aug. 11 and followed up with a fax that proved she had paid.
Another billing letter arrived seven days later.
As she told the story, I could almost hear Watson's head explode.
I figured I'd try my luck.
I call Roxborough's billing department, and Gabriella answers. What luck!
When I tell her I am looking into Watson's complaint, Gabriella says, "I wouldn't know if I can speak" about that issue, and promises to have a manager call within an hour. After two hours I call back and she transfers me to the manager, Carissa, who's away from her desk.
While waiting, I go online and Google "Roxborough Memorial Hospital billing problems" and entertain myself reading the horror stories Watson had been warned about.
I never do hear from Carissa, so I try the man listed as CEO, Peter Adamo.
He wasn't in, but I hit pay dirt in the form of Pat Haraburda, executive assistant to the CEO. I explain the situation to her, and within an hour Watson gets a call from Roxborough Memorial Hospital regional vice president Bryan Burklow, who does give his last name.
And his profound apologies. And a statement that her balance is now zero. And a phone number to call, should she get another bill.
Watson tells me she's satisfied "with what Mr. Burklow had to say. I'm still annoyed that it had to come to this."