Prognosis: Profits

Hospitals can seize wages

When David Griffin got behind on payments for his hospital bill, Wilkes Regional Medical found a way to get its money: taking it from his paycheck.

Griffin was left with substantial out-of-pocket expenses several years ago, after he was treated at the Wilkesboro hospital for a collapsed lung.

Taking advantage of a state law that allows public hospitals to garnishee wages, Wilkes Regional got a court order allowing it to take 10 percent of Griffin’s pay until his $8,000 debt is paid off. The hospital is owned by the town of North Wilkesboro.

A welder by trade, Griffin said that living on $60 less each week has been painful.

“You definitely know it’s gone,” the Wilkesboro resident said.

The Observer found other cases in which Wilkes Regional garnisheed wages, but it’s unclear how often the hospital takes that step.

Top officials at the 130-bed hospital referred reporters to Carolinas HealthCare System, which manages the hospital.

System officials did not answer the Observer’s question about why Wilkes Regional garnishees wages.