Grieving Family Upset By UPMC Bill Collectors

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Garrett Williamson loved baseball, swimming with his sister and fishing with his grandfather.

But most of all, the 14-year-old loved life. Losing him has taken some of the life out of his family.

“While you’re sitting there beside your son as he’s losing his life, that’s not the time to talk about money,” Brandy Williamson, Garrett’s mother, said.

While battling T-cell lymphoma in the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital for three months, Garrett’s parents say Children’s Hospital bill collectors called them four times.

“I said, ‘We are in Children’s Hospital, we’re in the ICU,'” Chris Williamson said. “I said, ‘My son is very sick. I would appreciate it if you do not call me back.’”

Garrett died at Children’s Hospital a few weeks ago. Chris and Brandy Williamson buried their son, got home from the funeral and in a pile of letters on the table found a letter from UPMC.

It was a collections notice demanding payment of more than $6,000 for Garrett’s medical bills.

“I buried my son yesterday. I’m full of grief and I’m angry – I’m angry that UPMC doesn’t give families the respect that they deserve in such a horrible, horrible time,” Brandy Williamson said.

“Your grieving immediately turns to anger. You feel like you have your respect and dignity taken from you.

“You feel that your son is no longer considered the human being that he was, that he’s a balance due. It hurts,” Chris Williamson added.

When made aware of the problem at Children’s Hospital with Garrett Williamson, UPMC says it assembled a team to immediately address the situation.

In a statement, spokesman Paul Wood said: “We’re immediately implementing a more rigorous 30-day Do Not Call process …” for folks with a terminally-ill loved one.

UPMC has also reached out to the family to “express our condolences and to apologize.”

UPMC is also working with the family’s insurance company in order to “minimize their personal liability.”

“It’s not about money. It’s not about us asking for money. It’s about respect,” Brandy said. “My son was more than just a balance due.”

  • PittGuy62

    UPMC = U Pay Me Cash

    • u pay more

      so true pitt guy, once we were leaving the hospital parking lot at upmc shadyside and we gave the attendant the parking ticket our specialist had validated. we were about to pull through when the attendant told us that the validation was for 25cents, and the lot fee was $6. (the hospital probably charged our insurance $1500 for the days tests, etc). when we jokingly complained to the lot attendant that we thought the hospital should have paid for all of our parking, she taught us that at UPMC-You Pay More Cash. we all had a good laugh and went on our way. next time we were back at the hospital, the lot attendants in that garage had been replaced with automated payment machines. i guess the hospital didn’t want to pay the inflated rates for health insurance for its lot attendants!

    • Cathy B

      The timing of the calls appears to have been inappropriate and my heart goes out to the family. On the other hand, bills need to be paid. Many of you forget that the people who clean the rooms, deliver the food to the patients and those who care for the patients need to be paid. Just try walking out of Giant Eagle without paying for your groceries with the promise of “I will drop off a check later”. That would never be tolerated, but health care professionals allow people to pay on time without interest and yes, we do allow people to bring their money in later. I do not work for UPMC but I am a health care professional and patients get many bills before being turned into a collection agency. A quick phone call or a check in the mail to pay on the account would probably have made this a non problem. Please do not make those of us in health care look like we do not care, we do but like most of you, I expect a paycheck every two weeks.

      • Anonymous

        First just let me say that this is not about payments but just a matter of dignity, respect and most of all compassion. But to compare the payment of groceries to the medical payments of a terminally Ill child is disheartening and inexcusable! as a healthcare professional, yes we do rely on our paychecks just like everyone else in our society but we must not forsaken the emotional needs of our patients and their families as they go through the most difficult times of their lives. Sadly, I too at one point in my life felt just like a “balance due” and that my life came down to nothing but dollar signs as I struggled to get coverage for my life threatening condition while I was under upmc insurance! Words cannot explain the added pain and frustration i endured during that time as i dealt with countless appeals and all the billing departments. It drains you not only emotionally but physically as well! My heart truly goes out to this family and I salute them for speaking up for themselves.

  • Michael

    I owed a $30 co-payment for having seen a specialist. The UPMC bill came and I paid it within a week. Well, I started to receive all kinds of colleciton letters from UPMC. And to think I paid the bill on time.

  • Pens Nutt

    KDKA How do we get in contact with you? I will pay any stupid bill on behalf of the family that UPMC is after

    • Steeler fan

      West Allegheny school district had a benifit Breakfast for Garretts family last weekend, any donations are always welcome to help this family. Any school office would get it to the family.

    • not the popular opinion

      first let me say my deepest sympathies to the family, but i think they are reacting to this because of their loss. they maybe should have just ignored this, but possibly they were not in the right state to do it…….the hospital doesn’t look so bad when you consider the bills were for treatment on which payment was due way before the end, and the hospital has probably (hundreds of?) thousands of statements they send out. i don’t know how they could be expected to know what each and every family’s situation is when the bill goes out. maybe they should be, but to check on each families situation before the bills are sent seems like it would be impossible. by going on tv the day after the funeral, when they should be spending their time healing, it makes them seem like they are looking for the bills to be forgiven just because upmc looks bad.

      • Sara Sams

        Did you miss what the Fater of this boy ask the Hospital too do ??? He ask for them to NOT call him. What ia wrong with that him spending time with his Dying Son is more important than some freaking Medical Bill. I know what it is like having a young child with CANCER. This Ilness takes a tole on the whole Family. Shame on UMPC … Im sorry for the loss of your Son. Your in my thoughts and prayers.

      • Del R. Boni, D.M.D.

        In response to the coward(NOT THE POPULAR OPINION) who leaves inappropriate commentary and hides anonymously behind a computer…This is Garrett’s uncle, and I wiil not sit back and allow you to leave such a commentary on a matter of which you have no information.”Payment was due way before the end?” Way before the end of what? My nephew was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non Hodgkins Lymphoma on Oct. 11 and was in the pediatric intensive care unit the ENTIRE TIME fighting for his life. My brother in law and sister NEVER left their son’s bedside during this entire ordeal. Each day consisted of batteries of tests, conferences with oncologists, chemotherapy and life or death decisions.How could UPMC know about this? I’ll tell you since you obviously don’t know. UPMC called my brother in law 4 TIMES while he was standing at his son’s bedside and he informed them that Garrett’s situation was absolutely dire and please do not call at this critical time. Each time he was told that they were sorry, and they would enter this information into their computer. THEY DID NOT. The day of my nephew’s funeral a letter arrived informing them of their possibility of being turned into collections. Lastly, you have the upmost audacity to imply that they were looking for their bills to be forgiven? My brother in law is an excellent provider for his family ,and pays ALL of his bills. To imply otherwise ,with such unmitigated gall is completely offensive to our family. Next time, spend your time more wisely by doing something other than offering misinformed crude commentary which completely disrespects our family during our time of suffering and quit being such an oppressive rude troglodyte that you obviously have become.

      • FMcLaughlin

        My deepest sympathies are with this family.
        My father passed away while in UPMC’s care. He was in the ICU for months before he died. It was a terrible time for all of us. Days after he passed away we received a survey.. addressed to my father… asking how his stay was!!???
        For an $8 billion global health enterprise with almost 50,000 employees… who claims their mission is to provide outstanding patient care…… they sure are lacking in the most important part of patient care… compassion.
        Brandy said it best when she said, “It’s not about money. It’s not about us asking for money. It’s about respect,”

  • Lynnette

    Isn’t it a joke that UPMC is non-profit? They’ve been pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes for years. Their care, their “community benefit”, is poor, they close needed facilities, they care little about the patients. The front-line staff might, but the system as a whole, doesn’t.

    • Brad

      Lynnette if you are realizing just now that upmc has been pulling the wool over our eyes, I got a great deal on a bridge for you. Face facts, pittsburgh was rebuilt on healthcare and technology. I just wonder why I didn’t jump on board years ago

      • John Smith

        Rebuilt??? What a joke!! Only 5 cities lost more people than Pittsburgh over the past decade and Pittsburgh has lost half its population since the 60’s. Rebuilt, what a joke…….. this is all that is left. UPMC is a monopoly that needed busted up…… joke of care compared to Cleveland Clinic, John Hopkins , Mayo etc..

    • Robin Clarke

      ll you who are tired of UPMC’s corporate monopoly excesses and abuses: please visit. Join the movement to protect and return emergency health care to the Mon Valley..

  • Kathy

    This is completely unacceptable on the part of UPMC. They should enact at the very least a 90 day period to allow the families to grieve properly. I had a similiar experience with Children’s when a bill of ours got mixed in with our neighbors and they didn’t give it to us in a timely manner and the bill…(A VERY SMALL AMOUNT) was due and they were calling within a 30 day period. I was extremely upset with the accusatory nature of the call so I can imagine what this family is going through.
    I applaud KDKA for doing this story.

  • Pens Nutt

    This is a heart breaking story and its sad what America has become, and I am a conservative not a bleeding heart liberal. Please email me how I cna donate and at least take away this bill – its insignificent in the scheme of things, but at least a worry that the famil doesn’t have to think about…thank you

    • Steeler fan

      You can deliver a donation to Gail in the West Allegheny Middle School Kitchen. She will make sure the donation gets to the family.

  • Mary

    Years ago I works in the insurance department for UPMC. I was researching a claim for an insured patient who had a baby at a UPMC hospital & the baby died. There was question as to when the baby died & if the baby had passed the time when it would have had its own coverage or would have still been covered under the mother. I was actually told by people above my supervisor that I needed to call the mother and ask her the date that her baby died. I went to my supervisor and told her I would not make that call. I felt that the hospital should be called and they could look into the records. The higher-ups felt it would be faster to call the mother. Nice, huh? (I called the hospital, not the mother)

  • kkellie


  • Dee

    how many months was it past due, most don’t go to collection that quickly
    i agree the hospital billing needs to have more connection with hospital personal. we are people not just money

  • sumpthin fishy

    If UPMC didn’t send out bills they wouldn’t be able to pay the doctors. There is proably more to this story but we’ll never hear it from KDKA

    • Del R. Boni, D.M.D.

      There is absolutely nothing fishy. See my commentary above….

    • FixPGH

      I also think doctors are ok. They get paid well. Bills get paid, especially when there is insurance involved. The family isn’t saying they don’t think they should be billed or something, they are saying UPMC was aware of their child’s condition and shouldn’t have been so quick to jump on them about paying. If you’re sitting next to your dying child, do you want your phone ringing only to answer it finding some emotionless drone saying “Now, about your bill…” All they are trying to do is make UPMC and others aware that the hospital and billing departments need to communicate the current situation. They should know that the kid is still in the hospital, so don’t call yet. Or the kid just passed away, so give them 30 days before we even start sending letters or calling. Sucks that the big, bad, corporate world took away human compassion.

  • laurie

    . I gave birth at Magee. We had planned on having the baby at Shadyside but, I went into labor a month early and the Doctor said I think I would rather you deliver at Magee. When I got to the hospital, Magee was upset because I was not paid on thier lay-away plan. The decision to deliver at Magee was made that morning by the MD. The Bill from Magee was in my mailbox before we got home from the hospital….
    I was employed by UPMC Presby at that time.

    • FixPGH

      I hate Magees. When I was in college I went there for their free women’s care plan to get OB/GYN care and birth control and such since I was a student and didn’t have health insurance and didn’t want to have a kid. Every time I went in there, nothing but young, unmarried pregnant girls walking around. Disappointing.

  • Merlyn

    What ever happened to The Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund?!! Gobbled up in the UPMC coffers?!

  • maggie

    please check your UPMC bills very closely. my son was in Passavant’s ER where they did one MRI, I was with him the entire time. they billed the insurance company for 2 and I called my insurance company and told them there was no way they did 2 I never left my son’s side. there was also a difference in the number of IV’s he was given, the billing was for 6 and he actually had 2 ! I know for sure because I was there. So PLEASE always check that bill closely whether you are the one actually paying or it is being paid by your insurance company.

    • FixPGH

      Maggie you are so right. I remember before I even moved to Pittsburgh, when I was in high school in ’02 or ’03 I saw a Dateline report or something about a man at one of the UPMC hospitals checking his bill, thinking some things were wrong, went to a doctor and the doctor said some of the things listed on this bill are for pregnant women. They billed him for stuff he was never given. So yes, CHECK YOUR BILL. Those people run around like crazy in there, there is no way they write or report stuff right every single time, or they are instructed to bill more out of greed. Who knows.

  • Pat

    This is an excerpt of an article that was written in September 2010:

    University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CEO Jeffrey Romoff makes a very, very nice income, more than $5 million during the last fiscal year. UPMC generated a staggering $8 billion last year, and manages not only properties in Pennsylvania but across Europe.

    Still, I’ve gotta say, he and his administration don’t seem very popular.

    Romoff scored a dismal 26 percent approval rating on, a site offering a look inside companies by offering comments from insiders. (One employee’s take: “Jeffrey Romoff leads by fear and intimidation and that culture flows down throughout the organization.”) UPMC itself got a 2.6 out of 5 rating as a place to work.

    If the reviews on Glassdoor are any indication, UPMC is a hidebound, rigid, domineering employeer that doesn’t do much to make people feel wanted:

    “Zero recognition. Overall not a good place to work. Very little reason to feel proud or satisfied – Just a paycheck.”

    “Pittsburgh leadership is still in the 20th century in how to manage organizations. They still have old men’s clubs and believe in the old boy network.”

    “The organization is old-school conservative, rife with nepotism, and ruled from a position of paranoia using fear, intimidation, and secrecy. It is not proactive, only reactive.”

    “Nepotism throughout the organization. There is a lot of people who really shouldn’t be in the positions they are in.”“A very arrogant company that thinks they are bigger and badder than anybody else. No real understanding of business and social responsibility.”

    “Be fair and stop being a big bully to employees, the community and the city.”

    I’m sorry to say, for UPMC’s sake, that these are among 26 similar complaints. Somehow, I don’t think this a big lashout by one disgruntled employee, do you?

    P.S. And while we’re dishing on the subject of management short-sightedness and nepotism, check out this scathing entry in the Health Care Renewal blog, which notes that the center paid out millions to members of Romoff’s own family during fiscal ’09.


    My son passed away from pancreatic cancer. The treatment he was given was the most uncaring and insensitive people I ever seen in the medical profession. His doctor called for him to come right to the hospital asap. They were goingt to insert a stent in the pancrease. We have a drive of TWO hours to Pitt.. When we arrived they informed us they had no beds. After waiting they sent him to Montifour for a bed. The walk alone was more than he could do. Now this is so unbeleivable from here on– The bed they were going to put him had been quartined so we were escorted to wait in a storage room with wheel chairs etc. My son could not receive his pain medicine bacause he did not have a bed.After sitting there for almost 4 hours , they put him to bed with his clothes and shoes on—- still no medicine for the pain. Later the gal came in to draw blood- TOOK HIS BLOOD WITHOUT PUTTING GLOVES ON. After about 2 hours of this senseless treatment we again tried to get him his pain medicine, they ask the nurse where it was and her reply was she just didn’t have time to get it , but she had time to go outside. Thinking she would soon come with the medicine we kept waiting. Pancratic cancer is the most painful canceer there is..and the pain was becoming unbearable for him. My son looked at me and said Mom I am afraid to stay and I told him I was afraid for him to stay there also, I told him to come on we are going home. We left and return home, where he could get the badly needed pain meds. My son died 6 weeks after, and we found a hospital where he and the family was treared with the most respect, compassion and tended to his every need. The nurses and the doctor were there for us. If only we knew about it sooner. M y husband last week was taken to Pitt. for emergency surgery, and the doctor wanted to send him UPMC, no way Doc so the doctor called around to find he could have the surgery at AGH, that is where he went, Imight add the care he received there was what you would expect., from a hospital.

  • LJS

    My prayers are with the family during this time of extreme loss.
    UPMC makes many billing errors. UPMC Billing does not apologize for their errors/ nor for ‘using’ the patient/insured to do their work for them.
    Never pay UPMC until you receive paperwork from your own insurance company(s), and address your questions to your own insurance people…not to UPMC. Do this PRIOR to giving ANY payment to UPMC. Watch your credit reports too.
    If bills are large, hiring an attorney to help sort things out, can give you strength and time to grieve , in private, with your family.
    The State needs to do an audit/investigation of UPMC billing practices.
    It is very sad that the loss of your child has brought UPMC billing practices to light.
    Thank you for putting this spotlight on UPMC Billing.
    Again, my prayers are with the family during your time of sorrow.

  • georgeann butler

    UPMC should be investigated immediately. They have ruined plenty of families and rob many of insurance companies that have done business in this state and no one seems to care that they are getting away with it. We need a whistle blower baldly on this matter and I know there is one out there sitting at home deciding on this. Remember there is a lot of families out here that in one or another thank you if get enough nerve to do what is right. Why wait til some reporter gets a”tip” or some one higher up leaves it in some tape while shooting himself in the head or lying on a beach with millions of dollars that we will never recover. We all know in all levels of the UPMC that something is wrong and who step forward first.

  • Dan

    Prior to Garrett’s passing, the following site was created for him: More recently a donation section was added that allows anyone to donate using a Paypal or a credit card. As far as I know you can still donate directly using this site.

  • Bobbi Jo Hughes Roessler

    My thoughts and prayers are with Garrett’s family!! I’m so sorry for your loss!! My son goes in to Children’s Hospital frequently (J.R.A) and I’m shocked and saddened over these comments I’ve read!! When your child is sick, it’s a scary and stressful time and to have people demanding money for services rendered is inexcusable! I don’t think I’ll ever go back in for an appointment and feel the same way. I feel bad for saying that, but that’s how I feel! And to BJ Frampton, my heart breaks for the pain your son had to endure and for the bad treatment he received!

  • bettygerbil

    upmc is a joke they know nothing when it comes to autoimmiune problems they gave 4 dianosis and in 8 months i was so sick i couldn’t take it anymore i went to cleveland and at cleveland it took 5 minutes looking at my mris and test and i had my dianosois i will never go to pittsburgh for anything my family will drive 4 hours to get to cleveland for all our care they have the best docs anywhere

  • bettygerbil

    my niece worked at childrens she says they are really bad to work for she had to see all the icu kids patients and help the kids and family but was told by them of her means to help each family do to what there insurance would pay for i took my own son there because his insurance would need a referral and his doc told us childrens was the best we went 2 months ago and they did test which when i called to get results they said the doctor would have to see them and someone would call me back still no one has called me back so i took him to cleveland and thats where i’m staying

  • F. Heil

    I feel deeply saddened for this family. Everyone knows that there are going to be bills whenever anyone is in the hospital but to recieve calls while they are sitting by his side is just awful. I also had an experience that shocked me too. I was taken to the E.R. because of my back and I couldnt walk. The pain was unberable. I was treated quickly an talked into taking a pain med which I dont take because Im so allergic to them. I was released still unable to walk and was handed my bill for my co-payment. They wanted paid before we left. I explained I didnt have money or my check book on me so they gave me an envelope. I ended up having an allergic reaction to the medicine and my son couldnt even get a hold of anyone to find out what to do, Needless to say I was taken to another hospital and admitted, I wouldnt go back there again.

  • SallysMom

    I ache for Garrett’s family. I too had a baby that died recently. She died on a tuesday and on friday, the day of her funeral, we got a call from UPMC. Unsympathetic and heart wrenching are the only words to describe the unnecessary phone calls about bills. We are fully aware that a bill will be coming but the hurt that a phone call and rehashing of the already raw experience of the recent death is uncalled for. Truly a very painful experience. This should never happen so close to the death of any family member, let alone a child! A little compassion goes a long way.

  • Dr Vinny

    Why don’t we ever hear stories about the lives that are saved at UPMC? If you only get news from KDKA nobody would EVER go to a UPMC Hospital

  • Monopoly Man

    Its a shame you don’t really have a choice in this region on where to go. UPMC is everywhere and are notorious for treating and paying their employees horribly. Ask any NON-physician UPMC employee and they will tell you. UPMC dumps money into physicians, especially any that are associated with research. Rightfully so in some regards, but all the other staff from clerks, nurses, aids etc get the ultimate lowest salaries possible. Their outlook, if you dont like it, go somewhere else. OH WAIT, everything is UPMC so you have no choice. If anyone within UPMC tries to form a union, they are fired. It is a shame what intimidation this organization uses on its employees. It cares not about its staff or patients rather the money you shovel into their “non-profit” pockets. U Pay More Cash = UPMC

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