PORTLAND – Mercy Hospital said Thursday that it will not tolerate aggressive bill-collection practices, such as posting debt collectors in emergency rooms and at patients’ bedsides, by a contractor it hired this month.

Accretive Health Inc. was sued in January by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, which claims the company violated patient-privacy and debt collection laws with such tactics in a chain of hospitals in that state.

Mercy Hospital, which announced this week that it has chosen Accretive Health as its “revenue cycle operating partner,” said late Thursday that it won’t tolerate any of the tactics Accretive is accused of using. “It’s not going to happen here,” said Susan Rouillard, chief development and communications officer for the Portland hospital.

In a prepared statement issued Thursday evening, the hospital said, “If we determine that Accretive Health is unable to uphold our high level of standards and values, we are fully prepared to go in a different direction.”

Mercy said its contract with Accretive Health includes certain “service level agreements,” and Accretive, which has been working with Mercy for two weeks, must meet those requirements.

Pennsylvania-based Catholic Health East, of which Mercy is a member, has contracted with Accretive Health to improve its “revenue cycle management,” which involves properly invoicing patients for services and collecting what is due.

Rhonda Barnat, spokeswoman for Accretive Health, said Thursday night that, “We strive to uphold the highest values and standards for all our clients.”

Mercy said five Accretive Health employees will work at the hospital, but will not communicate with patients. The hospital said it will train the contractor’s on-site employees about its culture, mission and values.

“Mercy’s values are part of everything we do. We monitor our vendors very carefully,” Rouillard said.

Mercy said it weighed a number of potential vendors and thoroughly vetted its new relationship with Accretive Health. The review process included visiting hospitals around the country that use Accretive.

“Accretive Health continued to rise to the top as a leading and reputable organization,” Mercy said in its prepared statement.

Chicago-based Accretive has seen its stock fall about 44 percent in the past two days, in response to an investigative report released Wednesday by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.

And on Thursday, the company was sued by shareholders, according to Bloomberg News Service.

“The company failed to disclose it was violating health privacy laws, state debt collection laws and state consumer protection laws,” allowing its shares to trade at artificially high levels, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, Bloomberg reported.

While Mercy said it would not allow Accretive Health employees to communicate with patients, the hospital itself often contacts patients to discuss their potential bills and financial obligations.

A reader who contacted The Portland Press Herald after reading an article Thursday on Mercy’s hiring of Accretive Health said she received a letter Tuesday that “invited” her to pre-pay $570.05 in co-insurance costs before her surgery.

Mercy said in the letter, a copy of which was received by the Press Herald, that the amount was the patient’s estimated out-of-pocket expenses for hospital services.

Mercy said it is common for hospitals to contact patients before they get service, to discuss costs.

“It’s industry best practice to do that. It’s pretty common across the industry,” Rouillard said. “We don’t withhold service if the patient can’t pay.”

A spokesman for the Maine Hospital Association could not be reached late Thursday night to say whether contacting patients before they get service is a common practice for Maine hospitals.

Rouillard said Mercy Hospital’s level of charity care exceeds the state average.

An exact figure was not available Thursday night from the Maine Hospital Association.

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@mainetoday.com