Lawyers for the Swedish healthcare group have sent an “IMMEDIATE CEASE AND DESIST WARNING” to Washington Community Action Network (WA CAN), CHS has learned over the group’s efforts to fight the expansion of the Cherry Hill campus.
On January 27th, three WA CAN organizers approached people in the waiting areas of Swedish’s Cherry Hill campus, handing out copies of both Swedish’s own charity care application and a WA CAN brochure about Swedish’s handling of medical debt. When a representative of Swedish’s management spotted them, he escorted the organizers out. The next day, the left-leaning community organizing group received a hand delivered letter from Swedish’s lawyers, which read in part:
…you shall immediately cease and desist all activities on the Swedish Medical Center Cherry Hill Campus…[including] handing out any form of communication to hospital staff, patients or visitors, and speaking to any hospital staff, patients or visitors on any subject.
WA CAN organizer Xochitl Maykovich told CHS that WA CAN has been unsuccessfully trying to take its concerns (outlined in this white paper) to Swedish CEO Tony Armada for months. “In the interim,” she said, “we decided that people need to know about charity care, and so we gave patients in the waiting room…charity care applications…[And] we put a few on the ER [waiting area] table…We were very polite, and the people that I talked to, they were like, ‘Oh wow, thanks.'”
“There’s no signage up about charity care,” Maykovich added. This is not accurate, at least currently: walking around the hospital, CHS was able to find one poster near the main Patient Services desk asking “Do you Qualify for Financial Assistance?” that listed a phone number for more information. And when we asked the Patient Services desk about charity care, they immediately handed over a “financial assistance” application. (According to Randall Huyck of the state Dept. of Health, that’s pretty much all that’s legally required.) On the other hand, CHS couldn’t find any other posters or advertisements, and staffers at two different information desks had no idea what we were talking about when asked about charity care.
Maykovich thinks the signs were put up recently as a response to her group’s presence.
Amir Islam, a Squire Park Community Council board member, was one of the volunteers with Maykovich. “We were giving out charity care applications,” he said “and getting people more informed on campus that they can actually get their medical debt forgiven.”
Vice President of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute Andy Cosentino, who asked the organizers to leave when he saw them on January 27th, sees thing differently. “We cannot permit the aggressive actions taken by WA CAN on Jan. 27,” he told CHS via email, “as this is a burden to our patients and our caregivers. We respect freedom of speech, but do not believe the care setting is an appropriate place — particularly when messages and approach are inflammatory, aggressive and inaccurate. Per our policy, solicitation is prohibited in our facilities.
“As you read [the WA CAN brochure],” Cosentino added added, “reflect on how a parent, who’s son or daughter is in surgery would feel when reading such a document.”
When asked what he meant by “aggressive actions,” Cosentino declined to elaborate: “Our recent communications [with CHS] explained the actions of WA CAN on our Cherry Hill campus. We do not allow solicitation of this nature on our private property and we do not support WA CAN confronting patients and visitors in the hospital setting.” He also said that the hospital disputes claims in WA CAN’s brochure.