The other health systems that filed the most lawsuits last year echoed that sentiment, emphasizing that they have not sued any coronavirus patients.
St. Peter’s Health Partners, which runs a chain of hospitals in the Albany area and filed about 1,000 lawsuits last year, and Oneida Health, a health care system near Syracuse that filed about 500 lawsuits, both said in statements that they temporarily stopped suing in the spring but resumed over the summer.
Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives at the Community Service Society, a nonprofit that advocates anti-poverty policies, criticized hospitals for suing patients during the pandemic, even over unpaid bills from hospitalizations in past years.
She said that a few hundred dollars may not mean much to a hospital chain but can be a significant burden for a low-income patient. “It means someone is going hungry,” Ms. Benjamin said. “It means a kid is not getting a winter coat.”
In some cases, the lawsuits have sought even larger sums. John T. Mather Memorial Hospital on Long Island, which is owned by Northwell, sued Thomas Kasper in April for $31,340 in unpaid bills — plus about $8,000 in interest and fees, records show.
That hospital also sued Scott Buckley for $21,028, plus about $4,000 in interest and fees.
“I am literally broke,” said Mr. Buckley, 48, who works at a Stop & Shop grocery store. “I don’t have a penny to my name. I have three kids. If they take my paycheck, I won’t have anything.”
One of Mr. Buckley’s daughters, Kacey Buckley, 22, who works for a cat breeder, is also being sued over unpaid medical bills in an unrelated case, records show. Northwell recently began garnishing 10 percent of her paycheck.