A class action lawsuit against Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center and its former parent company is working its way through Yakima County Superior Court, according to public legal notices placed to inform potential plaintiffs of their options.
The lawsuit, originally brought by Columbia Legal Services in late 2013 on behalf of patient Angela Lopez, claims that Regional’s charity care policy — or lack thereof — deterred eligible patients from receiving care at the for-profit hospital.
Charity care is medical care provided for free or at steeply discounted rates to qualifying patients, and is usually a tax write-off for hospitals.
By state law, hospitals must make some level of charity care available to patients determined to be indigent, or making less than 200 percent of federal poverty level, about $48,500 a year for a family of four. The lawsuit alleges that Regional did not adequately inform patients who might have been eligible about the availability of charity care options.
At the time, Regional and Toppenish Community Hospital were the only two hospitals in the state with no current charity care policy on file with the state Department of Health.
Hospital officials have declined to comment on the case.
Now, lawyers with Columbia Legal Services and the Sirianni Youtz Spoonemore Hamburger law firm are working to let community members know that they might be part of the class action suit.
According to the legal notices, people who received care at Regional or Toppenish — which was owned by the same parent company, Health Management Associates (bought out last year by Community Health Systems) — between Oct. 22, 2007, and Sept. 1, 2014, were indigent at the time and were not screened for charity care, may be in the class.
Letters were sent earlier this summer to all patients who received services in that time frame, and three notices have been placed in the Yakima Herald-Republic so far.
There has been no court ruling on the claims in the lawsuit yet.
“There is no money available now and no guarantee that there will be,” the legal notice says.
If people qualify for the lawsuit, they have three choices, two of which carry an Oct. 5 deadline.
• Do nothing: Qualifying patients will automatically remain in the class if they don’t do or say anything to opt out. This disqualifies them from pursuing an individual lawsuit against HMA/Regional on this topic in the future.
• Opt out: Qualifying patients have to contact attorneys to file notice by Oct. 5 if they want to get out of the lawsuit, giving up any benefits that may come from the eventual ruling by retaining the ability to file their own lawsuit in the future.
• Get your own lawyer: Patients can get their own attorney to represent them in the class action, but must file a Notice of Appearance in Superior Court by Oct. 5.