Mpilo Hospital sets Harare debt collectors on ex-patients
MPILO Central Hospital in Bulawayo has unleashed debt collectors to recover more than $22 million from patients who have not settled medical bills.
The hospital is struggling to restock on essential drugs and rehabilitate essential machinery as patients continue not paying.
Wellcash Debt Collectors, which the hospital engaged to collect its dues, is issuing notices and attaching property belonging to residents with outstanding debts.
A source at Wellcash said thousands of notices have been dispatched to owing former patients.
The affected residents have, however, expressed concern over the hefty interests that they are being charged by the Harare based firm.
Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr Adrian Musiiwa yesterday declined to comment on the issue, saying he needs to communicate with the hospital first.
However, he said the ministry had discouraged hospitals from detaining patients after treatment to force them to pay.
“I need to contact the hospital and verify. The policy is that hospitals should not turn away patients because they don’t have money or detain patients after treating them. After providing service, there should be a payment plan if the patient can’t pay for the services in full,” said Dr Musiiwa.
The Chronicle is in possession of a letter sent to a debtor owing the hospital $381 but Wellcash is now demanding $496 after factoring in “administrative costs” of $115.
The debtor spent three weeks at the hospital after sustaining injuries in a traffic accident.
The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, appealed to the Government to intervene, saying the reason why she was not paying is because she had no source of income and was struggling to make ends meet. “The government should intervene and stop the hospital from engaging debt collectors to recover debts. The government is very much aware that a majority of the people in the country are unemployed, but people get sick all the time,” she said.
“Where do they expect us to have the money for bills? It’s not that we are refusing to pay. The debt collectors are in business and are adding on their exorbitant markups. In some cases the mark-up is more than the money owed. It’s the debt collectors who’re benefiting,” the resident said.
Another resident owes $207, but the bill has gone up to $310. He said: “These people think that we’re deliberately defaulting. It’s because we don’t have the money. I was failing to pay the $207 but they have increased the money to $310. I have nothing to sell to raise the money”.
The Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association (BPRA) recently appealed to the Health and Child Care Ministry and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health to stop Mpilo Hospital from attaching residents’ properties over outstanding payments.
Chapter 2 Section (29) (1) of the Constitution obliges the State to “take all practical measures to ensure the provision of basic, accessible and adequate health services throughout Zimbabwe”.
Early this year, Mpilo Central Hospital sent debt collectors to all women who gave birth between 2009 and 2012 at the institution, to attach their property after they failed to settle maternity fees.
The hospital’s chief executive officer, Mr Leonard Mabandi, recently said efforts to recover the $22 million have yielded little due to economic hardships.— @ pamelashumba1.