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Cost of five years at Tampa General Hospital? $9.2 million

TAMPA — A young woman who was a patient at Tampa General Hospital for nearly five years racked up charges totalling nearly $9.2 million, according to a lawsuit filed by the hospital against her estate.

Tameka Campbell died at age 29 of a progressive nervous system disorder. She was hospitalized from August 2004 until her death in June 2009. Such lengthy hospital stays are rare, but not unheard of.

Several months after her death, for example, Tampa General had one patient who had been there for more than two and a half years. University Community Hospital in Tampa also had a patient who remained nearly 1,000 days.

Court records do not detail the medical services that Campbell received, and hospital spokesman John Dunn declined to comment. The suit says the eye-popping $9 million figure represents the unpaid portion of the bill, but does not indicate whether Campbell had any public or private insurance.

Campbell's mother, Holly Bennett, protested the hospital's claim, filed with an estate that she maintains in her daughter's name. She told Health News Florida that she thought the proceedings were an attempt to keep her from suing the hospital, which she blames for her daughter's death.

"Who's ever even heard of a bill that high?" Bennett told the news service, which said Campbell suffered from progressive demyelinating neuropathy, which occurs when the immune cells attack the body's nerves.

In YouTube videos, Bennett criticized the care her daughter received at Tampa General, accusing the hospital of starving Campbell down to 37 pounds and giving her too much morphine. Bennett said her daughter was admitted for a minor injury.

But court records reveal that Bennett and the hospital disagreed about Campbell's care for years. In 2006, Tampa General said the mother had fired all of its physicians who were able and willing to care for her daughter. It claimed that Bennett refused to allow the placement of a feeding tube that was standard care for Campbell's condition.

Guardianship records show that the court ultimately removed Bennett as her daughter's health care surrogate and appointed a professional guardian.

Tampa lawyer Henry E. Nobles, Campbell's court-appointed attorney, acknowledged Tuesday that "there were issues with the quality of care between her mother and the hospital."

"She was very ill, and she was there a long time," he said, declining to say more about the situation due to attorney-client privilege.

Bennett told Health News Florida that her daughter's estate did not have resources to pay Tampa General, a private, not-for-profit hospital. But attorneys specializing in health care issues said hospitals sometimes file such claims to stake out a share of any money that may come into an estate.

"They're probably getting in the position to recover in case there is future money," said Tampa personal injury attorney Kim Kohn.

It is not known whether the $9 million hospital bill sets any kind of record. But the cost of uncompensated care in the United States is estimated at $43 billion in 2008, according to federal data.

Times staff writers Meg Laughlin, Philip Morgan and researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report, as well as the Associated Press. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8330.

Cost of five years at Tampa General Hospital? $9.2 million 07/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 9:25am]

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