In September 2012, as Gladys Puglla was thanking everyone for coming to a community organization board meeting, she blacked out from a stroke. It felt, she recalled, as if “my soul was leaving my body.”
She woke up at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. After surgery and a nine-day hospital stay, Ms. Puglla owed about $138,000 — after her health insurance paid its share of the medical bill.
There was no way Ms. Puglla, a clerical worker, could pay that astronomical amount on her $37,000 annual salary. The community organization where she volunteers, Make the Road New York, assigned a staff lawyer free of charge, and with help from the Community Service Society, a New York Times Neediest Cases Fund agency, negotiated with doctors and the hospital to reduce the balance to $6,900. After the Neediest Cases Fund agreed to pay $3,450, Cornell forgave the remainder. The fund also agreed to pay an ambulance bill of $1,020.
Clearing that medical debt was critically important, but Ms. Puglla still struggles with co-payments for continuing therapy, doctors’ visits and medicine. Because of those bills, she has fallen behind on her rent and is battling eviction.
But that is another fight, she said. For now, she is back at work and getting back on her feet.
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