Monday is not a normal day in the emergency room at Woodland Heights Medical Center. On a normal day, they see 40 to 50 patients, but on the weekend that number jumps up between 50 and 70.
Dr. William Clarke, the medical director of the emergency department, said, "Some people come because they have a sense of historically coming to an emergency room and have free care."
Emergency room priorities include chest and cardiac pains, loss of limbs, and children. In a new program, a physician now evaluates the patients and after discussing medical needs the doctor determines whether it's a true emergency. If it's not, the patient receives a pink slip.
Sherri Ziegenhals, the patient access manager, said, "The doctor will let us know his determinations, and at that time we approach the patient and let them know that the doctor has deemed it as not an emergency and that there will be a self pay for them. And, at that time, we can discuss with them what kind of financial arrangements we can make because they will be forced to pay the bill at one point or another."
Ziegenhals said, "We require or ask that they pay something down and again we work with them to see what it is that they are able to pay at that time. But specifically, to let them know that there are options out there besides presenting to the emergency room, especially if its a cold or a bad sinus infection, and the cost here is so much more than an urgent care clinic or a physicians office... It's just a good outlet for them."
If they can't pay, they are referred to an urgent care facility or a physician. They want people to know that the emergency room will be the most expensive service. Hospitals are trying to come up with ways to alleviate debt when it comes to serving uninsured patients.
Lance Jones, the CEO at Woodland Heights, said, "One in four people are carrying no insurance and it's a challenge for all hospitals especially in Texas."