5 On Your Side

Duke Hospital Patient Gets Billed For Surgical Mistake

Posted June 17, 2005

— A Wake County woman called Five On Your Side about a surgical mistake at Duke University Center and the bill that followed from the hospital.

Every day is a struggle for Jane Procacci. She is recovering from a chronic illness and from surgery she had last November at Duke University Medical Center. She has also battling something that happened during that surgery.

Procacci said as soon as she woke from the anesthesia, she was told an X-ray showed a surgical sponge was left inside her. She had to go right back into surgery to get it out.

"What can you say? 'No, I don't want to.' There wasn't much I could do or say," she said.

However, that was not the end of Procacci's hospital mix-up. The next problem came in January when Duke Medical Center billed Procacci not only for the original surgery, but also for the second one to remove the sponge.

"It was bad enough to have to go through the surgery, but then for them to expect me to pay for it, that's just ... it's not right," she said.

Procacci said she called the hospital repeatedly and wrote letters. About two months later, the hospital responded with a letter, saying her accounts were on "hold" until her case could be "reviewed." The bill did not happen.

"I'm still receiving bills from the hospital," Procacci said.

Procacci said she left a number of message, but she did not get another response. Duke then sent her account to collections, so Procacci called Five on Your Side.

When Five On Your Side called Duke Medical Center, a representative said Procacci should not have been billed for the sponge removal surgery. Another representative immediately called her.

The hospital then sent a letter expressing its "sincere apologies." The hospital also reimbursed Medicare $1,225 and dropped what Procacci owed on a $876 bill and a $706 bill.

Procacci is very thankful but she said she still cannot believe Duke ever billed her for its sponge mistake.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, you know, you don't bill a patient for a surgery that was the hospital's fault," she said.

Duke also said because of the billing mistake, it reviewed its procedures and added safeguards to keep bills from going to collections while disputes are investigated.

This incident is one of many that have occurred at Duke Health Systems. Jesica Santillan died after a transplant mix-up. She received a heart and lungs of the wrong blood type. Another incident dealt with a fire that occurred during a procedure and burned a newborn baby.

Most recently, Duke Health is answering questions about surgical equipment washed in hydraulic fluid and used on thousands of patients.

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