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Impact Stories Published October 18, 2023

Preserving Income: Kim’s Debt Collection Story

Kim McDonald, a block captain and grandmother from Nicetown, suffered a stroke and brain aneurysm in 2020 for which she needed emergency surgery. She was uninsured, so the hospital helped her daughter enroll her in a Medicaid plan which covered the majority of her bill. A debt collection lawsuit complicated Kim’s road to recovery – but now, thanks to her VIP volunteer attorney, she doesn’t owe a cent.

“I got great service at the hospital, but two years after my surgery, they sued me for $13,000,” said Kim. “That blew my mind, because I thought I was fully covered.”

“It was shocking, frankly,” said Scott Fellmeth, Kim’s VIP volunteer from Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky. “Kim is disabled and relies solely on government assistance for income. So why would the hospital go after her for that amount? Well, Kim’s not judgment proof. She owns her home.”

“Scott is an angel,” said Kim. “He’s a brilliant lawyer, but he’s also someone you can talk to without being afraid. Sometimes I feel like people look down on me because I’m poor. Scott didn’t come across that way. He was so loving and patient and understanding.”

When Scott took the case from VIP, he saw two ways forward: he could help Kim negotiate a payment plan, or he could fight back. He opted for the latter strategy. “I told opposing counsel that there was really no way Kim could enter into a payment plan, and that we were prepared to go to arbitration,” said Scott. “The optics were terrible for the hospital. We were prepared to take this all the way to trial so we could tell Kim’s story to a Philadelphia jury and let the jury know what this hospital is doing to their fellow citizens.” To Scott and Kim’s delight, the hospital gave up and dropped the suit.

“I was sweeping out front when Scott called me,” recalled Kim. “He said, ‘I think you’re going to like this outcome.’ It was such a relief. My family has been through a lot. I was so scared, but when Scott told me they dropped the case, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Kim’s case was the latest pro bono victory for Scott, a trial lawyer who focuses on catastrophic personal injury cases and has been a VIP volunteer since 2020.

“I do this work for people like Kim who are in a terrible spot and carrying burdens I can’t imagine. I want to help relieve those burdens,” said Scott. “You go to law school hoping to do some good. I think VIP is the place to do it.”