Excela working to untangle error that sent bad checks to 800 patients | TribLIVE.com

Excela working to untangle error that sent bad checks to 800 patients

Deb Erdley

Excela Health’s finances are not on life support, despite the potential that hundreds of patient refund checks recently bounced.

A data entry error this month had people across the Westmoreland County-based health system wondering what happened when banks began issuing bad check charges for refund checks issued on behalf of Excela. About 800 patients were affected, said Robin Jennings, an Excela spokeswoman.

The error was described as a data entry issue in Excela’s financial software that triggered a miscalculation in refunds to patients for services billed under the Excela Health Medical Group. The error resulted in patients being issued checks for two to three times the amount they should have received, Jennings said.

“We have sent letters to the patients affected letting them know of the problem and have reissued the checks in the correct amount,” Jennings said.

The matter is no reflection on the health system’s financial situation, she said.

In some cases, the error added hundreds of dollars to refund checks. In other instances, the multiples were much smaller.

Robert Marks of Hempfield said he was alarmed and curious last week when his bank notified him that he was being assessed a $12 penalty after a $15 refund check from Excela bounced. He said when he called Excela, he was told officials stopped payment on the check because it was an error. He was owed only $5.

“I hope they’re going to make good on the $12 charge,” he said.

Excela, which immediately stopped payment on the checks once it discovered the error, is working with banks to ensure that no fees or penalties are assessed to patients, Jennings said.

“As it can take up to two weeks for checks to clear between financial institutions, we also noted in the letter that anyone who may have already deposited the check into an account that the funds will be withdrawn,” she said.

Jennings speculated that in some instances Excela’s notifications may have crossed in the mail with bank notifications about stopped checks.

Krista Reoff of Jeannette said she has yet to hear from her bank whether it will honor a $150 refund check she received from Excela but said her boyfriend Bruce Bonafassi already has received a $20 charge from his bank for a $40 Excela refund check that did not clear.

“It made me wonder what was wrong at the hospital,” she said.

When she posted her concerns to Facebook, the message prompted more than four dozen responses. Some were from Excela patients who had learned of the problem, while others were from angry patients who said they were made to wait for long periods of time when they called to inquire about the checks.

Jennings said Excela provided contacts for patient concerns in its notification letters.

“This is an isolated incident, and we are taking appropriate steps to guard against a repeat incident,” she said.

The health system encompasses Westmoreland, Latrobe and Frick hospitals as well as a number of outpatient facilities. It is the largest private employer in Westmoreland County with approximately 4,660 employees.

In March, Excela reached a deal to outsource patient billing and other services to Optum 360, a division of Minnesota-based United Healthcare. Some 350 Excela workers, including patient registration and billing staff, medical records staff, coders, insurance verification staff, reimbursement analysts and clinical documentation improvement nurses, now answer to Optum.

Excela officials continue to search for a new chief executive officer and work to craft a new strategic plan after posting an operating loss of $9.8 million for the nine-month period ending March 31. Officials have predicted that the health system will return to profitability in 2020.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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