In a email to University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences employees after a CNN investigation highlighted thousands of lawsuits for unpaid pandemic medical bills, Chancellor Cam Patterson defended the process and said the funds must be received to continue operations.

“UAMS cannot survive if we aren’t compensated at all for services rendered,” Patterson wrote. “As the state’s only academic medical center, our university is even more dependent on clinical income to help fund operations in all our mission areas. In fact, the majority of our university’s budget is dependent on funding from patient care.”

The investigation was published on Sept. 8, and Patterson’s note was sent to staff on Sept. 12. 


The lawsuits CNN investigated included more than 3,000 in 2021, a sharp increase from the 35 filed in 2016. UAMS sued both patients and its own employees for unpaid bills, most of which initially came in at less than $1,000 each, CNN reported. But after the fees rolled in, the bills doubled or tripled, causing some people to file for bankruptcy or find second jobs. The report noted UAMS brings in more than $1 billion annually from patients and insurers, suggesting the individual lawsuits seem comparatively small.

Patterson defended the lawsuits to CNN, further emphasizing the importance of receiving payment from patients in his Sept. 12 email. Without the funds, he said, the hospital wouldn’t be able to provide uncompensated care, level one trauma services, speciality care — such as cancer treatment and neurosurgery — or pay its workers.


We have a responsibility to our state and to taxpayers to seek reimbursement for our services from those who have the ability to pay. UAMS doesn’t like taking legal action to collect money and we never do that for patients who are unemployed, on Medicaid or Medicare or those below 200% of the federal poverty level. We do ask for payment from patients who are employed and have commercial insurance. Under our current billing methodology, we only pursue legal action after more than a year of regularly communicating through letters and phone calls to patients asking them to set up and follow a payment plan.

The hospital also recently confirmed it had an operating loss of $30 million for its 2023 fiscal year. As a result, officials laid off more than 50 positions in early September.