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Kitt Klein and Mike Miller lost thousands of dollars in hard-earned savings more than a decade ago after UVA Health put a lien on their home for a hospital bill they couldn’t pay.
Now, they’re at risk of losing a second home.
“Can they do this twice?” asked Klein, who lives with her husband, a house painter, in her late mother’s house in the Shenandoah Valley.
The couple was hit with a $129,133 court judgment in 2017 after UVA sued them and won in a case involving unpaid bills for out-of-network treatment of Miller’s lung cancer the year before, court documents show.
Last month, UVA said it would scale back such activity after a Kaiser Health News investigation found the medical system had filed 36,000 patient lawsuits for more than $100 million over six years, sending many families into hardship and bankruptcy. Its pursuit of former patients included putting thousands of liens on homes.
The medical system, affiliated with the University of Virginia, said it is suspending current lawsuits, expanding financial assistance and even reconsidering old cases and applying aid retroactively. The new policies apply to people treated in July 2017 or later, according to Doug Lischke, UVA Health’s chief financial officer.
But that means people such as Miller, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial assistance from his local hospital but not from UVA, won’t benefit from the changes. Thousands of former patients owing old bills, many with court judgments against them and wages being garnished or liens on their homes, will continue to suffer under the previous rules.
“There’s so many people that I’m talking to that are so relieved, saying thank God people are finally getting some justice,” said former patient Denise Nunez, 45.
But she’s still paying off a UVA bill of about $1,500 dating to 2014, legal papers show. It never came to her house because a clerk transposed the address number, she said. The new policies don’t stand to benefit her, either.
At the same time, patients treated more recently said they are struggling to obtain information on the changed rules and are uncertain whether they’ll be helped. Unlike VCU Health in Richmond, which halted all routine patient lawsuits after Kaiser’s inquiry, UVA says it will continue to sue patients with incomes above a certain level.
It has also said repeatedly that changes announced last month are “a first step.”
“It seems like they’re still sorting out details of exactly what their new policy looks like,” said Elaine Poon, managing attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, which represents some lower-income UVA patients. “We want UVA to hold off — to suspend collections until they have a new policy.”
UVA has said little publicly about its new policies almost two months since it announced them, beyond posting a webpage referring to federal poverty guidelines and directing patients to a phone number with an intricate voice menu asking for a “guarantor account number.” Some patients said they didn’t understand what that means.
The website says nothing about reopening old cases for those already hit with garnished wages, court judgments or even UVA liens on their homes.
UVA is updating its website and stocking clinics with cards in English and Spanish with contact information for patients having trouble with bills, said health system spokesman Eric Swensen. For patients meeting the new rules, it is halting or reversing the seizure of Virginia’s special tax refund of up to $220 that is being issued this fall, he said.
UVA has granted easier payment terms to hundreds of patients, stopped renewing wage garnishments for patients who qualify and suspended or dismissed more than 500 lawsuits since Sept. 12, Swensen said.
For now, however, that doesn’t help Robert Turkiewicz, who lost a case the day before, on Sept. 11, and faces a UVA judgment for $96,779 and attorney fees of $14,517, court documents show. Given his experience with the UVA billing office, he’s not sure it ever will.
A carpenter and construction worker who lives in Luray, Turkiewicz, 44, accidentally shot himself in the leg a year ago while taking a pistol out of a truck to kill chickens. He and his wife make about $22,000 a year, he said. That’s well within UVA’s new income guidelines for erasing his entire bill.
But his stated income falls within UVA’s old guidelines for at least partial financial assistance — and he never obtained it. A UVA billing clerk kept asking for copies of pay stubs that didn’t exist because he had been badly wounded and couldn’t work, he said.
“I knew I couldn’t afford it and I told them I couldn’t afford it,” he said. “And they said, ‘Well, you’ll get the charity care.’ And I never did get it.”
On paper, UVA’s amended policy makes it easier to qualify for financial assistance, awarding aid to families with incomes of up 400% of federal poverty guidelines, or about $100,000 for a family of four with less than $50,000 in assets, besides a home.
A family of four with income below about $50,000 would qualify for a full write-off under the new rules. UVA also has said it won’t usually sue families earning less than 400% of poverty guidelines, and will increase the discount off hospital list charges for all uninsured patients from 20% to at least 40%. It has said it will not refund money already collected.
The health system is appointing a “billing and collections advisory council” of medical and community leaders to consider further changes, leaving open the possibility it could increase discounts for the uninsured or reduce balances for people treated before the July 2017 cutoff.
The system’s collections policies have included canceling enrollment for University of Virginia students who owe medical bills. UVA has hinted it would reconsider this.
But “I’m still blocked,” said Nacy Sexton, whose UVA education was interrupted in 2014 by a hospital bill that he is still paying off. “UVA has not reached out to me.”
Even closed cases can leave families heavily indebted or stripped of savings.
“I paid every penny to them, but I still owe $25,000 to a friend of mine,” said Priti Chati, 51, who lives in Roanoke. UVA sued Chati, whose case Kaiser described in a previous story, for treatment of a brain tumor in 2011.
Those with old bills and legal judgments say they hope the advisory council will urge UVA to make the new policies effective further back than July 2017.
UVA is dunning money from Nunez for a 5-year-old bill, taking $602 from her Virginia tax refund in April, a letter the state sent her shows.
Klein and Miller’s experience with big UVA Health bills began in the early 2000s after he hurt his wrist badly in a lawnmower accident. Multiple surgeries drove up the bills, which their daughter eventually paid with her money.
They deeded their house to her in 2012 for a few dollars to pay her back, Klein said, with UVA effectively taking their home equity. Then they moved into her mother’s house, built in the 1870s, near Quicksburg.
Since 2012, Miller has been fighting lung cancer and has tumors on his bladder and kidney. His insurance has paid more than $100,000 for treatment at Sentara RMH Medical Center in Harrisonburg, with the hospital awarding more than $400,000 in financial assistance based on his income, said Sentara spokesman Neil Mowbray.
But in 2016, doctors said he needed radiation therapy available only at UVA Health, which was out of network. The plan still paid UVA at least $64,000, insurance documents show. But UVA billed and sued the couple for $129,133. They’re paying $100 a month.
They make about $25,000 a year, said Klein, adding that UVA denied their previous financial assistance application. Their income is within the new UVA guidelines for patients to be considered for a full write-off of the bill.
But because the treatment was in 2016, before the July 2017 cutoff, she fears UVA will have a claim on her Quicksburg home, the one she grew up in, with her mother now buried nearby.
“I was furious,” she said. “Here we are going through this again, and this is our family homeplace. That’s all Mom wanted — she wanted it left with the family.”
An Uber driver, a purported NASCAR fan and a retired U.S. Air Force officer arrived at separate Richmond-area rendezvous this year, allegedly prepared for what they thought would be trysts with children.
Thomas Austin Monti, 72, drove from Tennessee with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and sex toys.
Kenneth Michael Garcia, 43, of Midlothian showed up in Colonial Heights with a pocket full of condoms.
And Louie Fernando Leitao, 63, arrived from Northern Virginia after offering to buy ice cream for two little girls.
Instead of being greeted by the adult relatives of children being offered for sex with strangers, the three were met by the FBI and arrested. One man, arrested in April, pleaded guilty last week. The other two, arrested in October, face up to life in prison if convicted.
The charges were the result of undercover investigations run by the FBI’s Richmond Division Child Exploitation Task Force, which targeted adults willing to travel in order to have sex with a minor. Court records show that investigators posted fictitious profiles on a number of dating and other websites.
Affidavits show that in one case, an investigator posed as a father offering his 14-year-old daughter for sex and in two cases investigators posed as the aunt of 10- and 6-year-old girls. Investigators working on the cases included FBI agents, the Virginia State Police and authorities from Richmond and Chesterfield County.
Accounts of the alleged messages that were exchanged and telephone conversations that were recorded in court documents are graphic and disturbing.
It occurred to at least two of the three defendants that the unlikely scenarios painted in internet chats and cellphone calls might be fantasies concocted by authorities in a sting operation, according to law enforcement affidavits.
In pleading guilty on Tuesday, Garcia admitted asking an undercover agent via text message: “First, to be safe ... you’re not a cop right? Or some federal agent?”
Monti allegedly asked in a message to someone he thought was the aunt of two girls, ages 10 and 6: “Are you, in any way, shape or form affiliated with any agency or organization that could cause me legal problems?”
Leitao, who was arrested when he showed up in Henrico County last month, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Roderick Young on Wednesday for a detention hearing.
His lawyer, William J. Dinkin, said Leitao is married and has two children, is retired from the Air Force with the rank of major and is in sales in Northern Virginia. Dinkin said Leitao has health issues and must care for his wife, who is seriously ill.
“He’s not going to flee his wife and family,” said Dinkin, asking Young for pretrial release.
Jessica D. Aber, an assistant U.S. attorney, argued against release. Among other things, she told Young that a search warrant executed Monday at Leitao’s home turned up child pornography on two devices.
Young denied Leitao’s request and added that he could not imagine a scenario where he would ever grant it.
The judge told Leitao that anyone who would get in his car in Northern Virginia and drive here to have sex with children “is patently and quintessentially a danger to the community.”
Leitao is charged with coercing and enticing someone under age 18 for prostitution or any sexual activity. If convicted, he faces a prison term of 10 years up to life.
An affidavit filed in the case alleges that he believed he was communicating with the middle-aged aunt of two nieces, 10 and 6 years old, who lived in central Virginia. He allegedly sent pornographic images of juveniles to the investigator posing as the aunt.
Monti, an Uber driver in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was arrested earlier this month when he arrived at the parking lot of a restaurant on Brook Road where he allegedly thought he was going to meet the aunt of two young girls.
Monti pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of crossing state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity with a person under age 12. U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson set a jury trial date of Jan. 13.
Garcia was arrested in April and indicted for the attempted coercion and enticement of a minor.
He pleaded guilty Tuesday before U.S. District Judge M. Hannah Lauck to a reduced charge of attempted receipt of child pornography and faces a prison term of five to 20 years and a $250,000 fine when sentenced Feb. 21.
Garcia’s attention was drawn to the following message posted by an undercover investigator on an online dating site: “Couple in town weds and would like to meet up for Adventures, and any other nascar fans here?”
A NASCAR race was held at Richmond Raceway on April 13.
Garcia admitted that on April 9, he responded to the ad placed by the investigators writing: “i’d be up for an adventure tomorrow ... somewhat of a nascar fan ... bigger fan of couples.”
The undercover officer responded, “NASCAR isn’t a make or break but just so you know I’m 42 and she’s 14.”
The investigator later said the girl was his daughter and Garcia had a sexually explicit telephone conversation with a female undercover investigator who posed as the daughter.
“I just want to make sure there’s no drama, I’m not law enforcement, I’m not FBI ... I don’t want any problems,” Garcia told her in the recorded conversation on April 10.
He was arrested at 10:20 a.m. April 11 when he showed up at the prearranged meeting spot, a motel in Colonial Heights.
Tuesday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Anyone in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
The forecast for Richmond on Tuesday calls for partly cloudy weather with a high of 68 and a low of 38, with a 20% chance of rain.
Bring photo identification. Voters in the Richmond area will cast paper ballots. They will fill in ovals and insert the ballots into optical scanning machines.
What’s on the ballot?
Across the state, all 100 seats in the House of Delegates and all 40 seats in the Virginia Senate are up for election. Heading into Election Day, Republicans hold a 51-48 edge in the House and a 20-19 edge in the Senate, with one seat vacant in each chamber.
Greater Richmond features 18 contests for House and Senate seats. Go to Richmond.com to review our coverage, including Q&As with Richmond-area legislative candidates and with candidates for local offices.
The boundaries of several Richmond-area House of Delegates seats changed in January because of court-ordered redistricting. Go to the Citizen Portal at the Virginia Department of Elections, at https://www.elections.virginia.gov/citizen-portal/ to determine your House and Senate districts and your polling place.
In Richmond, voters will choose among seven candidates who are seeking to replace City Councilman Parker Agelasto in a special election for the 5th District seat.
In Chesterfield County, there is a contest for every seat on the Board of Supervisors and change is coming to the School Board, as no incumbents are seeking re-election. County voters also will cast ballots in contests for commonwealth’s attorney, sheriff, commissioner of the revenue and in Chesterfield’s first contested election for treasurer in 40 years.
In Henrico County, all five current members of the Board of Supervisors are seeking re-election. Due to retirements, voters will select at least three new members of the School Board. Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor faces a challenge from former county prosecutor Owen Conway, and three candidates are vying to succeed retiring Sheriff Mike Wade.
In Hanover County, more than half of the seats on the Board of Supervisors are contested.
Richmond: (804) 646-5950
Chesterfield: (804) 748-1471
Hanover: (804) 365-6080
Henrico: (804) 501-4347
You also can call the state Department of Elections at (800) 552-9745
Keep up with the results on election night at Richmond.com
Former Vice President Joe Biden took selfies with supporters at a Democratic rally in Sterling on Sunday. “You determine what’s going to happen in 2020,” he told the crowd.
STERLING — Former Vice President Joe Biden rallied campaign workers in Loudoun County on Sunday, lending a hand to state Democrats seeking control of the Virginia legislature when voters take to the polls Tuesday.
Biden, among the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates, sought to raise the stakes of Virginia’s statehouse elections, telling a crowd of roughly 300 that success for Democrats here would set the pace for a defeat of President Donald Trump in 2020.
“You determine what’s going to happen in 2020, and that’s not hyperbole,” said Biden, who was joined by former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. “Literally, whether we get rid of the most corrupt administration in American history ... is going to depend on what happens here.”
Biden’s anti-Trump message came a day after Vice President Mike Pence stumped for Republicans in Virginia Beach, telling supporters of his party that maintaining GOP control in the legislature is important to Trump’s agenda.
Republicans in Virginia are defending slim majorities, holding a 51-48 edge in the House of Delegates and a 20-19 edge in the state Senate, with one seat vacant in each chamber.
On Sunday and throughout the campaign cycle, Biden and some of the state’s Democrats have sought to put the president front and center to energize their base during an off-off-year election known for low turnout. The president, whose disapproval rating consistently outpaces his approval rating in Virginia polls, has not taken a prominent role in Republicans’ message during this year’s legislative elections.
“Virginians aren’t going to be fooled again ... by these Republicans, who for the longest time out here have acted like they are Democrats,” Biden said. “It’s like reverse Halloween.”
Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, who introduced Biden, also sought to put Trump front and center, telling rallygoers: “If we get the result on Tuesday that we think we’re going to get ... I guarantee you that Republican crowd on Capitol Hill is going to jump off that ship like rats on a burning boat.”
Samantha Cotten, regional communications director for Trump’s re-election campaign, said in a statement that Virginia Democrats “continue to show how radical they have become by bringing in Joe Biden to stump for them on the campaign trail.”
She added, “The contrast on the ballot could not be more clear and Virginians will reject the Democrats’ far-left agenda on Tuesday.”
For all of their vitriol for Trump, Democrats on Sunday also focused on policy goals they said have stalled under Republican control of the General Assembly.
House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, focused on gun control legislation, climate protection, the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and anti-discrimination legislation to protect LGBTQ Virginians.
“Last night, we all turned back the clocks,” she said. “On Tuesday, we’re going to move Virginia forward.”
Biden tossed a barb at Republicans over their abrupt adjournment of the July 9 special session on gun control convened by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.
“Along come the special session, and what do they do? In two hours, they walk out,” Biden said of the session, which saw no votes on any gun-related proposals.
Biden shook hands and posed for photos after the event. Party officials said he then planned to travel to McAuliffe’s Fairfax home for a fundraiser to support his presidential campaign.
During an August fundraising visit to Richmond, Biden said that he would not be seeking the presidency if not for the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in August 2017 and Trump’s response to it.
Biden is among an array of high-profile campaigners who have made a late push to boost Democrats’ bid to take control of the legislature in Tuesday’s elections.
On Monday, another leading Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is scheduled to do a campaign event with Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, who faces a challenge from Republican Ian Lovejoy, a member of the Manassas City Council.
Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary is on March 3, Super Tuesday. More than a dozen states will vote that day, including California, Texas and North Carolina.
Sunday’s event in Sterling was meant to rally canvassers for the campaigns of Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun, and Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke, according to party officials.
Bell faces Republican Geary Higgins, a Loudoun County supervisor, for the seat of retiring Sen. Richard Black, a conservative Republican who has represented the district since 2012.
The 13th Senate District is chiefly in Loudoun, with a quarter of its voters in Prince William County. The district has backed Democrats in statewide elections since 2016, when Hillary Clinton carried the 13th by 6 percentage points.
In House District 10, Gooditis is facing Republican Randy Minchew, a former delegate whom she defeated for the seat by about 4 percentage points in 2017. The district is chiefly in Loudoun, but about 15% of its voters are in Frederick County and about 5% in Clarke County.
Minchew held the seat from 2012 to 2018. The Virginia Public Access Project reports that the House Democratic Caucus gave Gooditis’ campaign a $100,000 donation on Friday as she tries to retain the seat.
In Richmond on Sunday evening, actress Kerry Washington and Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, were to headline Care in Action’s Black Women Vote Rally. It was to feature Democratic candidates such as Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond; Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg; Ghazala Hashmi, who is taking on Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Chesterfield; and Sheila Bynum-Coleman, who is challenging House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.
It must have been a curious scene: a team of volunteers carefully rolling what looked like a mini-Ferris wheel through thick woods and over rugged terrain down the side of fog-shrouded Bucks Elbow Mountain.
Leading the way was our old friend Mark Cline, of “Foamhenge” fame, an artist often associated with April Fools’ Day pranks and his Dinosaur Kingdom II, a roadside attraction in Natural Bridge, which tells the (deservedly) untold story of the role that dinosaurs played in the Civil War.
But there was nothing zany about the episode on Bucks Elbow Mountain, west of Charlottesville, where a Piedmont Airlines DC-3 crashed in 1959, killing the crew of three and all but one of its 24 passengers. The only survivor was Ernest P. “Phil” Bradley, who was seriously injured, still strapped in his seat.
The objective of the Cline-led expedition? To reach the remote crash site, where pieces of the plane remain, and to return a landing gear wheel from the plane that Cline has been told was removed from the site long ago and had come into his possession within the last decade.
“Almost immediately after getting the wheel, I felt like I had a tiger by the tail,” Cline said by phone. “I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with it. I felt haunted by this wheel every time I walked past it.”
Bradley, the sole survivor, learned Cline had the wheel and phoned him. He was hoping Cline could use the wheel in conjunction with a memorial to those who died in the crash that Bradley had helped set up at Albemarle County’s Mint Springs Valley Park, near the crash site.
“I told him I’d do something,” Cline said.
Bradley died about a year later, in 2013, at age 87, but Cline kept didn’t forget his promise. Eventually, he devised a plan.
“I couldn’t think of a better memorial than to get this thing back up on the mountain,” Cline said.
He secured the wheel, which weighs almost 300 pounds, to a large metal spool of the sort that is used for thick wire or cable and had been sitting at his Enchanted Castle Studios for years — “I collect odd things and then see how they can be utilized later on,” he says — and put together a team. They made the trek Wednesday.
It was the 60th anniversary of the crash.
The plane, en route from Washington to Charlottesville and ultimately to Roanoke, crashed into the mountain on a Friday evening, less than 3 miles from the town of Crozet, but it was Sunday morning before searchers were able to find the wreckage and Bradley.
An investigation by the Civil Aeronautics Board (predecessor of the National Transportation Safety Board) blamed the crash on navigational error, with a contributing factor possibly being the pilot’s mental state.
However, the Air Line Pilots Association conducted its own investigation and raised the possibility that faulty radio beacons might have led the pilot to an incorrect flight path.
Reporter Hawes Spencer wrote an excellent account of the incident in The Hook for the 50th anniversary in 2009.
Cline might be best-known for April fools pranks, such as placing huge fiberglass dinosaurs around the town of Glasgow, or Foamhenge — the replica of Stonehenge he constructed of beaded foam and situated on a hilltop near Natural Bridge that became a national sensation for more than a decade before being moved to a farm in Fairfax County.
But he likes to note that he does a lot more serious work that doesn’t receive the fanfare. He also has done more solemn public displays, such as in 2006 for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks: He took two 40-foot storage containers, painted them white, fashioned them with yellow ribbons and American flags and stood them upright to represent the twin towers of the World Trade Center on a hill outside Buena Vista.
After being removed from the crash site and rolled off the mountain, the wheel apparently was stored in a shed nearby. Years later, an acquaintance of Cline purchased the property, discovered the wheel and offered it to Cline, who said he traded two eagle statues for it.
Cline, who was born two years after the plane went down, grew up in Waynesboro hearing about the crash. After talking with others, he came to the conclusion he was in possession of a “sacred artifact” and “the only place for the wheel is back up on Bucks Elbow Mountain.”
The crash site is on private property, so after securing permission, Cline and a few others blazed a trail to the difficult-to-reach site a couple of weeks ago.
Then he set the date for the actual return of the wheel for the 60th anniversary, and put the word out through a Facebook page (“Crash of Piedmont Flight 349 in Virginia”) that is operated by a cousin, Wanda G. Willis of Grottoes in Rockingham County. Her father wrote a song about the crash and later met Bradley, who became a close friend. Willis also got to know Bradley.
“He told me he never wanted people to forget the people that died in the crash, and I suggested we do a Facebook page and so we did,” Willis said of Bradley. “His son and daughter-in-law have asked that I continue the page.”
Brad Bradley said in a text message on Saturday that he’s certain his father “would be very pleased about the return of the wheel,” recalling that he took his father to visit the crash site about 20 years ago.
”It was very emotional for him that day, as you could imagine,” said Bradley, a state trooper in North Carolina. “He wondered many times why he was the only survivor.”
Dave Whetzel of Roanoke read of Cline’s plans and wanted to join the expedition.
His uncle, Louis O. Sheffield, was among the passengers who died in the crash.
“I’d looked for the crash site about 15 years ago, but did not have good coordinates,” Whetzel said in a phone interview Friday. “I always wanted to see the crash site. I’d read about it and visualized it in my mind, but I actually wanted to see it.”
His uncle, who worked in New York, was flying to Roanoke to visit Whetzel’s family. Whetzel was 9 years old at the time.
“I was real close to my aunt and uncle,” he said. “They had no children. I spent a lot of time with both of them.”
In fact, he was looking forward to accompanying his “Uncle Billy” to a World Series game the following baseball season.
Whetzel and his wife, Sharon, were part of Cline’s team that went down the mountain.
The morning was foggy and damp, the footing slick, rocky and steep enough that the volunteers took turns with the giant spool and had to hold it back from rolling too fast. A crew member helped clear the way with a chainsaw and machete.
Once the convoy reached the wreckage, team members removed the wheel from the spool and rested it against some of the wreckage. In tribute, the people who brought the wheel home took turns reading the names of those who perished in the crash.
“It was a little emotional,” said Whetzel, who carried a snapshot of his uncle to the site. “I thank Mark for his effort to get it back. He had a sense that it belongs with the wreckage. It’s back where it needs to be.”