If you go to the emergency room at Baptist Collierville, Memphis or DeSoto, you’ll be treated by a doctor from Southeastern Emergency Physicians, which is a subsidiary of TeamHealth, a massive physician staffing firm. Southeastern sues a lot of patients — more than 4,800 since 2017.
In fact, in the first six months of this year, Southeastern filed more lawsuits than local hospitals Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Baptist and Regional One combined.
MLK50: Justice Through Journalism and ProPublica noticed the surge of lawsuits filed in Shelby County General Sessions Court and had some questions for TeamHealth.
At first, TeamHealth defended its collection practices — and then it didn’t. In a statement, TeamHealth said it would no longer sue patients and wouldn’t pursue the lawsuits it has already filed. It also announced a new discount policy for uninsured patients that would reduce the cost “up to 100% when necessary.”
This matters, especially in Tennessee, where health-care expenses have an oversized impact. One in 4 residents has a medical debt on their credit report, the 10th highest rate in the nation, according to a 2019 report by the Sycamore Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
TeamHealth’s abandonment of its lawsuits, as well as implementation of a new financial assistance policy, marks the second time in five months a major health-care entity in Memphis has overhauled its practices amid questions from MLK50 and ProPublica.
In July, Methodist, a nonprofit faith-based hospital system, announced it would curtail its lawsuits over unpaid debt against poor patients. It has since zeroed out balances owed by more than 5,100 patients and reduced bills for more than 2,200 others, according to a hospital spokesperson.
We’re interested in hearing from people who know more about hospitals or doctors’ offices in Memphis. Talk to us if:
- You’ve been sued by a hospital or doctor
- You have medical debt that’s been difficult to pay off
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The Methodist Debt Machine Series
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and public policy. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and Community Change. Sign up for our newsletter.