Locusts in Africa and Hospitals Suing Patients

Grind for February 27th
“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”

– Robert Frost

Out Of The Frying Pan

The Headline

Ethiopia, Somalia threatened by plagues of locusts

The Grind

A biblical terror has descended upon the Horn of Africa, darkening the sky with its multitude and devouring entire fields of crops. I’m talking about locusts. Billions and billions of locusts.

The infestation, which affects regions already vulnerable to food shortages, is the worst in 70 years. Experts at the UN have recommended immediate action to prevent a “looming catastrophe.”

The Details

Desert locusts are known for three things: the ability to migrate long distances, a high reproduction rate (they reproduce every three months), and a voracious appetite.

One large swarm can eat the same amount of food consumed by the populations of New York and California in a single day.

“It’s a pest that has been around for eons and eons of time,” says UN official Keith Cressman. “It has so many different survival mechanisms…to just survive in some of the harshest areas and most remote parts of this planet. But it has this fabulous capacity to take advantage of good conditions.”

Good conditions occurred in 2018 when unusual cyclone activity produced wet conditions in the “Empty Quarter,” a remote desert area located on the Arabian peninsula.

The conditions attracted the locusts and facilitated two population explosions. Months later, the bugs migrated across the Gulf of Aden and arrived in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya.

A third cyclone hit in December 2019, pushing the locust population even higher. Experts believe the cyclone pattern is linked to global warming.

“If this trend continues, if there’s an increased frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean, it’s quite obvious that there will be an increased frequency of desert locust outbreak and upsurges like the one we’re seeing now in the horn of Africa,” warns Cressman.

The Takeaway

To make matters worse, efforts to aerially spray the bugs with pesticide have been hampered by conflicts in Yemen and Somalia.

“We do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that’s not what we’re doing at the moment,” admits UN official Mark Lowcock. “We’re running out of time.”

Based on the current conditions and locust populations in Kenya, experts predict a 20-fold increase in the number of bugs by the end of March – just in time for planting season.

Say What?

The Headline

The emergency room that sued 700 patients

The Grind

Sonya Johnson, 52, is a social worker and single mother whose employer does not offer health insurance. In 2018, she visited a doctor with complaints of weakness and a swollen tongue.

Sonya’s doctor sent her to the ER at Nashville General Hospital, a city-funded facility that caters to patients without health insurance. Sonya received a blood transfusion and spent one night at the hospital.

Nashville General gave Sonya a 75% discount on her bill based on her finances, but the ER sent her a bill for $2,700.

“How in the world can I pay this company, when I couldn’t even pay for health insurance?”asks Sonya.

The Details

Sonya left several messages at the phone number listed on the bill, but never received a response. She searched for Southeastern Emergency Physicians online but found no website. Months later, a cop showed up at Sonya’s house with a summons.

“It’s very scary,” says Sonya. “I mean, [I’m] thinking, what have I done? And for a medical bill?”

Nashville General does not sue its patients, but the firm that staffs its ER – Southeastern Emergency Physicians – does.

Southeastern sued 700 patients in Nashville in 2019, up from 120 the previous year and 7 in 2017.

“It’s curious that a company that works for a hospital like that might resort to those sorts of actions,” says Mandy Pellegrin, a researcher who specializes in medical billing.

“It’s the cost of doing business,” says Bruce Naremore, Nashville General’s CFO. “If I restrict them from collecting dollars, then my cost is going to very likely go up, or I’m going to have to find another provider to do it.”

The Takeaway

Lawsuits over medical debt are dangerous because there is a chance the business suing will obtain permission from a judge to take money directly from a patient’s paycheck.

This strategy is designed to help patients pay off their debts, but typically results in further medical and financial damage.

“When patients owe money, and they feel like they’re being dunned all the time, they don’t come back to the hospital to get what they might need,” says Naremore.

Southeastern is a subsidiary of TeamHealth, one of the two largest ER staffing firms in the nation. TeamHealth’s strategy of suing patients ramped up after it was purchased by private equity giant Blackstone in 2016.

Three years later, TeamHealth agreed to stop suing its patients as more stories like Sonya’s caught the attention of the media.

Sonya ended up working out a three-year payment plan with Southeastern, but she will still end up paying the full $2,700.

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