Attorney General Bob Ferguson today filed a lawsuit against Capital Medical Center in Olympia, alleging it repeatedly violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act by withholding charity care from thousands of low income patients.

The suit alleges that Capital management created a culture that “elevated aggressive collection over access to charity care.” Washington state law requires all hospitals to provide charity care to individuals who are near the federal poverty level.

Capital, the suit says, trained staff to pressure patients to pay for their treatment upfront without screening patients for charity care eligibility or providing notice of the availability of charity care.

Former Capital CEO Jim Geist, the complaint continues, called collection and registration staff members the emergency department’s “money makers.” He said in a 2012 meeting that the hospital needed to “get something out of” every patient and told staff to not let uninsured patients “leave without paying anything.”

“Capital’s unlawful collections practices prevented thousands of Washington’s neediest patients from receiving charity care,” said Ferguson. “I am committed to ensuring that all Washingtonians, regardless of income, have access to affordable care.”

Multiple patients reported violations by Capital staff, including demands to pay upfront and full for a procedure, attempts to negotiate payment arrangements while withholding information about charity care, and threats to cancel medical appointments if patients did not agree to make upfront payments.

Capital’s aggressive collection practices reduced the amount of charity care it provided. Between 2012 and 2015, Capital consistently provided less charity care than the regional average, often less than 1 percent of its revenue.