Mark Eustis Steps Down, Fairview Health Services CEO Was Criticized For Debt-Collection Practices

Hospital CEO To Step Down Amid Accretive Health Debt-Collection Controversy

Mark Eustis, the president CEO of a Minnesota hospital company under fire from state and federal authorities for allegedly harsh tactics its employees and the debt-collection company Accretive Health used to obtain money from patients, is leaving the firm.

Fairview Health Services, which operates a chain of nonprofit hospitals, announced Thursday that it wouldn't renew its contract with Eustis, 59, who became president of the company in 2007, the Star Tribune reported. Eustis will retire on July 31, according to a press release. He was "instrumental" in bringing Accretive Health into the hospital chain as a contractor in 2010, according to the newspaper.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson (D) issued an explosive set of reports last month detailing what she says are overly aggressive and illegal methods employed inside Fairview's hospitals by the company's employees and people working for Accretive Health, a Chicago-based company that manages billing, debt collection and other services for hospitals across the U.S.

Emergency room patients were asked to pay upfront, other patients were visited by billing agents at their bedsides, and collection agents didn't follow proper procedures, according to Swanson. In addition, she accuses Accretive Health employees of inadequately safeguarding confidential patient information, citing a case in which a laptop computer was stolen from an unattended car.

Bruce Folken, 62, of Apple Valley, Minn., told the Huffington Post that he was asked for payment when suffering from disorientation, high blood pressure, heartburn, and a tingling sensation on his left side that caused him to fear he was having a heart attack. While resting in an examination room in a Fairview hospital's emergency department, Folken said a hospital employee took his pants off a hook on the wall so he could retrieve a debit card from his wallet.

Eustis struck a conciliatory tone in response to the allegations. "Some of our patients don't feel they've been treated with respect and dignity," he said last month, according to the Pioneer Press. "It's obvious that we placed some of our employees in uncomfortable situations."

Accretive Health has staunchly denied that any patients were denied medical care over money, which would violate federal law, and said its policies and Fairview's forbid employees from leading patients to believe emergency treatments will be withheld if they don't pay. Some Fairview workers objected to tactics they worried made them appear "money-hungry," according to Swanson's reports.

"Mark committed to five years as Fairview's CEO," Chuck Mooty, the chairman of Fairview's board who will take over as interim CEO, said in a news release posted online by Modern Healthcare. "During that time, he established a clear, compelling vision for the future of health care delivery at Fairview."

Eustis's departure is the latest in a series of blows to Fairview Health Services and Accretive Health. Swanson's reports attracted the attention of regulators at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Al Franken (Minn.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), and caused Accretive Health's share prices to plummet.

In response to the pressure from Swanson and other officials, Accretive Health hired a consulting firm run by Mike Leavitt (R), a former Utah governor and U.S. secretary of health and human services under President George W. Bush, to helm an initiative that would create industry standards for billing and debt collection. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), who was President Barack Obama's chief of staff and is a former congressman, has defended Accretive Health and asked Swanson to back off her public attacks against the company.

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