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Attorney general orders Saint Agnes to pay $2.1 million for charity care health services

Photo of Saint Agnes Medical Center on Tuesday, September 6, 2016, in Fresno.
Photo of Saint Agnes Medical Center on Tuesday, September 6, 2016, in Fresno. sflores@fresnobee.com

The state has denied a request by Saint Agnes Medical Center to reduce how much charity care it gives to the community and is requiring the hospital to pay more than $2 million to nonprofit organizations that provide direct health-care services.

Saint Agnes has until Oct. 31 to pay $2,111,553 to one or more nonprofits.

The nonprofit Catholic-based hospital in northeast Fresno had asked the state attorney general to lower its $7 million annual charity-care minimum, established three years ago, to less than $5 million for patients who had no insurance or means to pay for their care in 2015. Chief Deputy Attorney General Nathan R. Barankin refused the hospital’s request.

Saint Agnes General Counsel Rick Wolf said last week that the hospital disagrees with the Aug. 26 attorney general’s decision and was evaluating its options. In its request for a lower charity-care minimum, Saint Agnes argued that since the advent of Affordable Health Care, also known as Obamacare, fewer people are without insurance and so the hospital should be allowed to reduce its charity care.

It is unfortunate the attorney general chose to deny Saint Agnes’ request to modify the charity care threshold to reflect the effects of the Affordable Care Act.

Rick Wolf, general counsel for Saint Agnes Medical Center

“It is unfortunate the attorney general chose to deny Saint Agnes’ request to modify the charity care threshold to reflect the effects of the Affordable Care Act,” Wolf said in an email. “As validated by their own expert, the current arrangement fails to address the increasing number of underinsured patients who receive care at Saint Agnes and other hospitals in our region.”

The hospital’s request to reduce its charity care came under attack from community members who testified at a public hearing July 1 at Saint Agnes.

Sandra Celedon-Castro, manager of Fresno Building Health Communities, said she hopes the $2.1 million in additional charity care goes to increasing access to preventive services and directly benefits the uninsured, low-income residents of Fresno. However, she would encourage Saint Agnes and other nonprofit hospitals in the future to look beyond direct care. “Hospitals need to truly invest in building healthy communities with healthy housing, more and better parks, access to healthy foods, quality jobs and education, and opportunities for youth.”

Too often community members are left out of the discussion.

Sandra Celedon-Castro, manager of Fresno Building Healthy Communities

There is no requirement for other nonprofit hospitals, which receive tax exemptions in exchange for providing charity care, to hold public hearings and get state approval to modify their charity-care minimums. Saint Agnes needed approval because governance of the hospital changed three years ago when Trinity Health Corp. and Catholic Health East merged. The attorney general set the charity minimum then.

Celedon-Castro said community members had a rare opportunity to participate in the process of setting a community benefit threshold. “In that sense, we consider this groundbreaking,” she said. “Too often community members are left out of the discussion.”

Wolf said although Saint Agnes disagrees with the attorney general’s decision, “we will continue to provide the same, high quality, spirit-filled care that our Valley patients have come to expect from Saint Agnes.”

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter

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