Financial Assistance

Financial Assistance

BayCare’s ‘Army of 100’

When the telephone rings in BayCare’s Financial Assistance department, on the other end of the line there is often a frightened, desperate person – someone who needs medical treatment or surgery, and is worried they cannot afford the bill.

That’s when the Financial Assistance “Army of 100” steps up. BayCare employs about 100 people whose job is to help individuals get the medical care they need, regardless of their ability to pay.

“I see our department as a balance between our mission and our financial responsibility,” said Lou Ann Watson, BayCare’s director of Financial Assistance. “BayCare’s mission is to serve our community, and some members of our community can’t afford health care. It is important for us to care for everyone in our community, regardless of their ability to pay for their health care.”

Patients often are shocked when BayCare offers help with their medical bills. “We hear them crying over the phone,” Watson said.

A special bond forms between the patients and the Financial Assistance team member who assists them. Many patients send letters of gratitude. Some patients have invited their caseworkers to their weddings. One patient named her child for her caseworker.

BayCare also is one of the few health systems in the nation that employs in-house Marketplace navigators to assist community members in signing up for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Financial Assistance team members also help people apply for Medicaid, Social Security disability and other county, state and federal assistance programs. Hospital-based Financial Assistance navigators even make about 1,500 bedside visits per month to insured hospital patients, just to make sure they understand how to take full advantage of their insurance benefits and to address any health care access issues they are experiencing.

“Our help doesn’t end when a patient leaves the hospital,” Watson said. “Some of our team members have developed relationships that span years of assisting our patients. Ultimately, our goal is to provide the best possible assistance to each person who needs our help – one patient at a time.”

Answered Prayer

St. Petersburg resident Honorita P. Darden, 59, expresses her feelings on a small sign she pins to her dress every time she goes to medical appointments. “I love BayCare,” it reads.

“I mean it when I wear that sign,” she said. “I love BayCare. If it weren’t for BayCare and God’s help, I would be dead.”

Honorita, who was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States in 1980, is divorced and the mother of two adult children. She’s also a former BayCare team member who left the health system in 2015 and started her own cleaning business. Just six months later, she was diagnosed with cancer and was told she needed immediate surgery. Her first thought?

“Oh no! I don’t have my health insurance yet.”

She had been waiting for her new business to take off before buying health insurance. Now, she had no way to pay for surgery. Sick and praying for help, she visited several community hospitals to ask for relief on medical bills, but got nowhere – until she walked into BayCare’s St. Anthony’s Hospital and met Financial Assistance team member Courtney Burt.

Burt worked with Honorita on her hospital-related charges so the surgery could proceed. The Financial Assistance department also stepped in again when tests showed Honorita’s cancer had spread, helping her set up chemotherapy and radiation treatments and getting her enrolled in Medicaid. Tests show she is now cancer free.

“They were so good, so helpful,” Honorita said of the Financial Assistance team members. “It was an answered prayer.”