Uninsured Give Low Ratings to Community Medical Centers
Many of the uninsured patients treated at Community Medical Centers' two Fresno hospitals are not satisfied with the level of service they receive at the facilities, according to a new survey by the Access Project, a health care research organization. Last summer, The Access Project, an affiliate of Brandeis University, surveyed uninsured patients at medical facilities in 24 communities across the country to gauge how the "poor and uninsured" felt they were treated by the facilities in the areas of customer service and assistance. The survey did not evaluate participants' opinions regarding the quality of medical treatment. Community's downtown Fresno hospital and University Medical Center "scored the lowest among local health care providers and, in many instances, worse than hospitals in the 23 other markets surveyed," the Fresno Bee reports.
Respondents "complained" of long waits, a lack of interpreters and little assistance in helping to pay for medical bills at Community's hospitals. According to the survey, Community patients spent on average more than 80 minutes waiting to receive medical treatment, while other waits at other hospitals averaged 63 minutes. Forty-two percent of Community's patients said interpreters at UMC "were not readily available," although they said that the interpreters at the hospital did a "good job." Only 18% of respondents at Community's downtown Fresno hospital felt that the facility was "open and accepting" toward them despite their ability to pay, while the figure was 36% for UMC patients. About 61% of patients at other hospitals in the study felt their hospitals were open and accepting. Only 10% of Community patients felt they were "always" treated with respect, while the average at other hospitals was 61%. In addition, nearly half of Community patients expressed "dissatisfaction" with receptionists, admission and billing clerks, and Community also "scored low" on the amount of help patients in need of special assistance received for such things as paying for prescription drugs. The survey will be made public this week, and copies will be distributed to Fresno County Supervisors during this period as well.
Those promoting the report hope that the findings "will stimulate change by shedding light on how poor patients view the way they are treated." The report also aims to identify barriers that might prevent low-income consumers from seeking necessary health care services. However, Community CEO Dr. J. Philip Hinton has "question[ed]" whether the report was biased, since in conducting the survey, the Access Project "worked closely" with California Legal Services, whose members have been "critical" of the private, not-for-profit Community in the past. The report's defenders stated that the survey is "fair and as accurate as an unscientific study can be." Carol Pryor, Access Project policy analyst and one of the report's authors, said, "It is not meant to be a totally definitive survey, but it gives you some general perception of how people are treated." Pryor "denounced" the suggestion that the survey was biased. But Hinton defended Community's services by citing a Community survey showing a 97% patient satisfaction rate.
Hinton admitted, however, that the results could be used to make improvements in Community's services. "Basically, even though I might not like their numbers or conclusions, our intent is to give the best possible care to everyone, whether they have insurance or not," he said. The results of the survey could have a significant impact on Community as the Fresno County Board of Supervisors considers turning mental health services over to the organization. Manuel Romero, head of the Fresno Health Consumer Center with Central California Legal Services, said he hopes to begin meeting with local health care providers in the next few weeks to discuss the survey results (Correa, Fresno Bee, 11/29).