POLITICS

Woman who billed hospital for wait time declines payment, wants to see change

05/14/2015 12:42 EDT | Updated 05/14/2016 05:59 EDT
Money talks, but an Ontario woman who billed a hospital for making her wait an hour and a half for a one-minute procedure says actions speak even louder.

Leslie Ellins says the Peterborough Regional Health Centre seemed willing to pay the $122.50 invoice she sent them after her lengthy visit last month, but she declined their offer because they also promised to improve their scheduling and wait-time protocols.

Ellins says two hospital officials told her they'd be launching a centre-wide wait-time initiative, though they haven't yet worked out the details.

She says they also pledged to start scheduling lunch times for doctors and staff to avoid double-booking, a move Ellins said would help address the main cause of the delay she encountered.

She says her one-minute cortisone injection got pushed back an hour and a half partly because four patients were booked to see the doctor at the same time and partly because the entire clinic staff took the same lunch hour.

The Peterborough Regional Health Centre issued a statement saying it welcomes constructive feedback.

Ellins said her invoice to the hospital, which she calculated based on her $75 hourly rate for financial planning services, was intended to send a message rather than replenish her bank account.

The prospect of reform, she said, is all the payment she needed.

"I said, 'no, I didn't ever want you to pay me, what I wanted you to do as fix what's broken," Ellins said Thursday in a telephone interview from her home in Buckhorn, Ont. "So they are taking steps towards that."

Ellins became something of a folk hero earlier this month when her invoice and accompanying letter first got published in a local newspaper.

Her complaint chronicled a 1.5-hour stretch on the morning of April 14 when she was scheduled to receive a cortisone injection at 11:15 a.m.

As she sat in the waiting room, she said she observed at least three other people check in for the same time slot she had booked.

As time crept by, Ellins said one patient approached the receptionist to ask if he could step out for a quick bite to eat in order to keep his diabetes under control.

She said she was shocked when the receptionist refused his request on the grounds that he might miss his appointment time. Shock gave way to fury, however, when she learned lunch breaks were allowed for some people — namely the doctor and his staff, who had all stepped out for a meal some time around noon.

Ellins said hospital officials promised to tackle these issues during their planned overhaul. They told her doctors previously had the option to schedule a lunch hour or to work straight through, but said the new policy will now require all staff to take a lunch break, during which time appointments will not be booked.

Policies requiring technicians and other staff to stagger their lunch hours will also be more rigorously enforced, Ellins said, adding she was told that the clinic she visited will receive an official refresher course on patient relations.

Officials apparently expressed shock that the clinic reception desk bore a placard telling patients that wait times could not be guaranteed, and promised to address that as well.

Ellins said she was encouraged by the apologetic tone of the hospital officials and their willingness to listen to her concerns.

The decision to decline cash, however, will only be worthwhile if the hospital puts its money where it's mouth is and follows through on its promises, she said.

"Whether it will come to pass, we'll see...I'm reserving judgment."

Those reservations are also tinged with optimism, however. Ellins said she hopes the dialog prompted by her letter may encourage other provincial health-care facilities to make improvements of their own.

"Hopefully good will come out of it and other hospitals, maybe, will look at this and go, 'ooh, you know what? We better pay attention.'"

Follow @mich_mcq on Twitter