The View from Finance: An Unforgettable Connection

Lori Eichenberger

Lori Eichenberger’s career with NorthBay Healthcare hasn’t provided many opportunities for her to connect directly with patients. Now a senior director in Revenue Cycle, and previously a manager in the hospital business office, she would only speak with patients when they had a complaint about their bill.

But, about 15 years ago, she had did have an interaction with a patient that left an indelible mark.

“After all this time, the memory can still bring me to tears,” she said. “It was a call that started out as a billing inquiry, but ended up quite differently.”

The patient wanted to make sure her insurance company had made a payment on an emergency room account from a few months prior. “As I researched her account, we started to chat and she mentioned she also had a mammogram account that she was concerned about. It had led to a recent diagnosis of advanced breast cancer. As we continued to talk, I asked her if she had started appointments with a surgeon or oncologist yet, thinking that I could connect her with either, if necessary.”

The patient said she wasn’t going to have surgery. “Her husband of 20-plus years had recently divorced her and as a result she no longer had the insurance he used to provide, so she couldn’t afford it.”

It was a jarring confession.

“I remember sitting in silence for what seemed like hours while my mind processed what she had just said. When I found my voice again, I told her we had programs to help patients who were not able to pay their bills and that it didn’t seem to me that money was what was most important now, but rather getting her the care she needed.”

Within the next few months the patient did have surgery, as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “It was all without worry about how she would pay her bills, allowing her to focus on getting better,” Lori recalled.

“I will never forget the first Christmas card she sent me; the one that said I was her angel. I will also never forget how it made me feel to help this patient. I continued to receive cards from her for several more years.”

Regardless of the different roles employees play at NorthBay, “we all have the power and responsibility to connect with our patients,” Lori said. “In the words of the motivational speaker Bryan Williams, ‘It’s our responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others, and if we cannot say at the end of any given day that we have done that, we have not truly done our job.'”

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