When she began her career here at the age of 24, Debbie Baldwin didn’t plan on working at Akron Children’s Hospital for nearly 40 years, but “the years flew by.”
As the lead patient access representative for the Emergency department, she not only loves what she does, she’s clearly good at it as well.
Although her main job is to register patients seen in the ER, on this evening she directs people to bathrooms, fixes the jammed label printer, replaces the lithium battery on her mobile work station, directs traffic in the busy hallways, and gets tissues for a little one with a runny nose.
Pushing her favorite red ladybug mobile work station into 9-month-old Abigail’s exam room, she immediately cheers up the feverish little girl in polka dots by singing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.” Baldwin’s demeanor also helps to put Abigail’s worried mom, Jessica, at ease.
Typically Baldwin spends about 10-15 minutes registering each patient she sees.
“My job is to collect the patient’s demographic information – full name, address, date of birth, doctor’s name, contact phone numbers and insurance information and input it into the computer,” said Baldwin, who works the 3:30-midnight shift. “Parents only need to sign one form that covers the consent to treat, release to insurance, privacy and advance directive information.”
A mobile scanner allows Baldwin to scan the form into the system and shred the paper copy.
Just 2 floors up from the ER, Patrese Dent spends her day helping some of the same people Baldwin just registered.
As a financial counselor in Admitting, Dent tries to find solutions for the hospital’s uninsured and self-pay patients. She’s well versed in hospital and government programs that can help relieve some of the financial burden families incur as a result of hospitalization.
“Whether a person is eligible depends on many factors like household size, income and whether he or she is currently receiving any other benefits,” Dent said. “I can only help those who want to be helped. That’s why it’s so important that people give accurate contact information at the time they register, so I can reach out to them.”
Dent spends many hours doing detective work. A queue on her work station lists the patients she is responsible for following up with each day, including some who’ve been seen at one of Children’s many off-site locations.
“Sometimes bills are rejected by the payer and it’s my job to find out why. It could be something as simple as a registration error or lapsed coverage,” she explained.
Dent must make at least 3 phone calls and mail a packet to patients’ homes to try to notify them of benefits they may be eligible to receive. On this day she isn’t having much luck getting people to answer their phones.
She finally reaches a 19-year-old pregnant woman who was unaware that her Medicaid coverage had lapsed and that she needed to reapply for benefits. Dent gives the woman the phone number to call to re-open her case and asks the woman to call her back after talking to a case worker.
In addition to searching through multiple databases to verify insurance information on patients, on this day she also calls surgery and anesthesiology to get a price quote for a self-pay patient who needs an ACL repair.
Back in the ER, Baldwin takes a call from the triage desk while her computer flashes a “red light” signal, letting her know all the exam rooms are full. Once a patient is in an exam room, one of the ER’s patient access representatives signs her name next to that patient.
“The exam rooms are spread out, so it’s helpful to know who is taking each room,” Baldwin explained. “That way we don’t walk all the way to the other side of the ER to duplicate someone’s effort.”
Four hours into her shift, Baldwin meets the family of a 1 year old who was brought in by her grandmother and aunt. Since neither woman is the child’s legal guardian, Baldwin has to call the child’s mother, who is at home ill, to ask for permission to treat the child.
“Parents sometimes mistakenly think they can send a notarized or signed letter granting a friend or relative permission to seek treatment for their child,” she said.
Upon entering the next room, Baldwin is greeted with a big smile from 10-year-old Madisyn’s grandmother, who recognizes Baldwin from her many trips to the ER with her own kids.
“When you’ve worked here as long as I have, people recognize you,” she said.
Baldwin took advantage of the hospital’s tuition assistance program years ago and earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, but decided to stay at Children’s.
“I chose to stay at the hospital rather than seek a teaching position because I liked the flexibility this job offered while I was raising my children” she said. “I was able to work part-time for many years and be an active parent. Now that the kids are grown, I’m back to working full-time.”
Dent doesn’t just stay in her office in Admitting. At 10 a.m., she’s called to the ER to meet with the family of a 15-year-old boy who is listed as self-pay.
She works to help them with their medical bills by determining their eligibility for possible discounts, including a 25 percent discount if their bill is paid within 30 days of receipt.
Dent often makes trips to the ER and other hospital departments to meet with patients who don’t have insurance.
“The hospital does offer a charity program, but they require patients to exhaust every other available resource first, including applying for Medicaid,” she said. “For those who do have insurance, but have a high deductible, we can work out a 12-month payment plan to help ease the burden of having to pay a bill all at once.
Families appreciate the support and guidance Dent provides.
“I’ve had people in tears, thanking me for what I’ve done for them. It’s very gratifying,” said Dent
If you’re interested in a career at Akron Children’s Hospital, check out our current job opportunities.