What happened in Memphis didn’t stay in Memphis when MLK50-ProPublica broke the news about Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s aggressive debt collection practices. Revelations that Methodist was using the courts more than any area hospital system, filing more than 8,300 lawsuits over a five-year period, both startled and resonated with national thought-leaders, policymakers, activists and politicians.

“Rapacious,” is what one verified Twitter commenter called Methodist’s approach to debt collection.

The limelight forced Methodist to call for a 30-day review of its collections activities. On July 30, top Methodist officials announced the hospital system would raise the minimum wage it pays employees, dramatically expand its financial assistance policy for hospital care and stop suing its own employees for unpaid medical debts.

Everyone from Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson to former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert M. Califf weighed in, retweeted and widely shared the MLK50-ProPublica Profiting from the Poor series. Medical professionals as well as everyday Memphians posted and tweeted reactions and personal stories about their experience with Methodist, in particular, and with the nation’s healthcare system, overall.

Carrie Barrett’s debt collection saga proved gripping as did the story of low-wage Methodist employees who were not immune to being sued by the hospital. Barrett’s share of a two-day stay for chest pain in 2007 initially was $12,019 but grew to about $33,000 in interest, court costs and fees. At age 63, she has never earned more than $12 an hour.

Eric Stark expressed incredulity upon learning Methodist employees were being sued by the hospital they worked for.

Through the courage of telling her story, Barrett bore witness around the world. Ironically, much of that world, the developed parts, offers universal healthcare. This is in stark contrast with a country where underinsurance is the norm, and Tennessee has refused to opt into the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange, championing a much more limited Medicaid block grant that would need federal approval.

Several news outlets in print, online, radio and TV published or aired stories on the series, and reacted to the revelations, including The Guardian, National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” Truthout, Real Clear Investigations and The Commercial Appeal. Healthcare experts have shared it widely, and the series is now a talking point within industry circles based on citations in newsletters, reposts and mentions.

Here are more examples of what people have been saying about Profiting from the Poor, including many voices from healthcare.

John W. Ayers, who identifies himself as a Johns Hopkins/Harvard-trained epidemiologist and associate professor in the Infectious Disease & Global Public Health Division at University of California, San Diego said this:

Even those within the United Methodist Church, with whom Methodist is affiliated, took notice:

Anita Bonds, a Washington, D.C., city councilwoman and United Methodist church member was flabbergasted:

The Rev. Anthony Anderson, a United Methodist elder, told us: “I am still heartbroken, and I say that spiritually.” His Facebook reaction upon learning of the hospital’s collections practices was:

Local and national media republished the MLK50-ProPublica series, and took notice of the revelations and Methodist’s response by CEO Michael Ugwueke in the June 30 Commercial Appeal, which picked up the series. The host of the “An Arm and a Leg” healthcare podcast weighed in, among others.

Carolyn Bahm is editor of the Bartlett Express.

The series made Memphians think and start asking questions about holding institutions and the people who run them accountable:

In an age of news media disruption, when fewer local journalists are on the ground digging into the structural issues that hold communities back, Steve Mulroy, a University of Memphis law professor and former Shelby County commissioner, commended the series in this Facebook post:

Ultimately, Profiting from the Poor sparked a larger conversation about the American way of healthcare:


The Methodist Debt Machine Series

The story that started it all: Methodist Le Bonheur Makes Millions, Owns a Collection Agency and Relentlessly Sues the Poor and everything that came after, here.

Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation to MLK50 today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Southern Documentary Project and Community Change. Sign up for our newsletter.