By ALAN BLINDER
August 29, 2016
Rodney Sumter had three gunshot wounds, including one that seemed to be “a hole the size of a baseball.” But during the 16 days he was in a Florida hospital, and in the weeks after a gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, he never worried about the cost of healing his bullet-ravaged body.
He had insurance, as well as a hunch: Some manner of charity care was probably in the offing. His intuition was proved correct this month when Florida Hospital and Orlando Regional Medical Center said they would not bill victims of the June 12 siege, which left 49 people and the gunman, Omar Mateen, dead.
“It’s definitely a blessing for everybody involved,” said Mr. Sumter, 27, who was working as a bartender at the gay nightclub. “You know, we’ve been through a lot.”
The hospitals said the donated aid, including emergency care and follow-up surgery, could be worth more than $5.5 million. The hospitals treated more than 50 people, some of whom died from their injuries.
“It was incredible to see how our community came together in the wake of the senseless Pulse shooting,” Daryl Tol, the president and chief executive of Florida Hospital, said in a statement. “We hope this gesture can add to the heart and good will that defines Orlando.”
Next month, the OneOrlando Fund, which raised at least $23 million, is scheduled to begin issuing payments to victims of the shooting, during which Mr. Mateen pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State. Those disbursements, fund officials have said, have “no strings or obligations attached” and are intended to “serve as a gift to the victims of the Pulse tragedy.”
But medical bills have long been a leading concern in Orlando, where many victims suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Still, Mr. Sumter, who was also grazed by a fourth bullet, said officials had never discussed financial issues during his hospitalization.
“It really wasn’t on my mind heavy, too heavy, because the doctors and the nurses, they were all really supportive,” said Mr. Sumter, who participates in physical therapy three times a week.
Hospital officials, he said, “never really told me the estimated amount” associated with his medical care.
Orlando Health, which operates Orlando Regional Medical Center, where Mr. Sumter was treated, said it had “not sent any hospital or medical bills directly to Pulse patients, and we don’t intend to pursue reimbursement of medical costs from them.” The health system said that it would seek funding from other sources, including insurers and the state’s crime victim compensation program, but that its unrecovered costs could exceed $5 million.
“The Pulse shooting was a horrendous tragedy for the victims, their families and our entire community,” David Strong, Orlando Health’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “During this very trying time, many organizations, individuals and charities have reached out to Orlando Health to show their support. This is simply our way of paying that kindness forward.”
But Orlando Health, which runs the area’s premier trauma center, acknowledged that some Pulse patients might require continuing care, a poignant reality that corresponds with mounting concerns that the flow of donations might be insufficient when perhaps tens of millions of dollars are needed for disability services and lost wages.
“We can’t predict the future needs of these patients, their financial situations, or what the state or federal governments may require us to do for charity policies,” the hospital said. “So, while we can’t assume the answer is free care forever, we will use our very generous charity and financial assistance policies to assess the best way to ensure our patients get quality care here at Orlando Health in the most fiscally responsible manner.”
Mr. Sumter, for one, said he was grateful for the donations by the hospitals, as well as the forthcoming money from the OneOrlando fund, which officials promised to victims soon after the attack.
“You hear that often, but you don’t know what exactly everything is going to happen when the smoke clears,” he said. “It’s just good to know that not only are we receiving a nice fund, we don’t have to worry about the hospital bills.”