AVH: All care taken to prevent identity theft | AspenTimes.com

AVH: All care taken to prevent identity theft

Aspen Valley Hospital officials insisted Thursday that a case of identity theft that affected a handful of patients was an isolated incident that they virtually guaranteed cannot happen again.The outsourcing of billing and collection functions to a national company – which carefully screens its employees – drastically reduces the opportunities for identity theft when patients pay bills by credit card, according to John Jellinek, treasurer of AVH’s board of trustees, and Terry Collins, AVH’s chief financial officer.The hospital awarded a contract to First Consulting Group early this year for its billing and collections after poor management practices were unearthed. AVH operated its own billing department for at least 10 years in Rifle before it decided to outsource the work in late 2004. Part of the problem was it couldn’t find reliable employees for the office, Jellinek said.A transitional billing and collections office was established in Carbondale in late 2004 and disbanded in March 2005. Roughly 25 workers in the office were hired by AVH and overseen by a supervisor for First Consulting Group, according to Jellinek.While staffing that office, AVH hired Andre Jesus Lozano through an employment agency called Labor Source. Lozano was arrested Wednesday in Denver after an extensive identity theft investigation by Basalt police.An arrest affidavit alleged that Lozano obtained credit card numbers from five patients of AVH and Alpine Medical Group, a doctor’s office, and used them for personal purchases.Jellinek said Lozano was a “$10-per-hour clerk” who never handled patients’ payments. He only passed data to claims adjusters and during that process fraudulently obtained credit card numbers, Jellinek said.The arrest affidavit prepared by Basalt officer Brooke Bishop spells out a greater role for Lozano. It said one victim, an Aspen woman, used her credit card to pay for a bill at Alpine Medical Group. She told Bishop she spoke to a man named “Andre” on Jan. 6. He asked for her Social Security number and her mother’s maiden name while she was making a payment by credit card. She provided it.Lozano is accused of using the woman’s credit card for purchases from The Home Marketplace that were allegedly delivered to the condo where he lived in Basalt. He is accused of stealing the credit card numbers of four other patients of AVH or Alpine Medical Group and using them for purchases.When asked if AVH had performed a thorough background check on Lozano, Jellinek became extremely agitated. He said the facility wouldn’t spend $10,000 for a background check on a $10-per-hour clerk. He accused The Aspen Times of attempting to blow the story out of proportion and making the identity theft appear to be an extensive problem with the hospital’s billing and collections procedures.Jellinek later apologized and stressed that he and other AVH officials have worked hard to fix a financial crisis there and didn’t want to see the progress harmed. One part of the solution was outsourcing billing and collections to First Consulting Group, he said.Collins said Lozano was hired before the hospital instituted a policy early in 2005 requiring all new employees to go through a background check and drug test. Lozano was hired in December 2004.”This guy got in under the wire,” Collins said.Jellinek said it is standard practice for temporary employment agencies to do a background check on workers when it is requested by a client. He was uncertain if AVH made that request on Lozano.AVH board President John Sarpa said the hospital’s human resources department apparently thought the background check was being performed by Labor Source.An executive with Labor Source said Thursday morning that he was checking into the Lozano case to study the circumstances of his hiring by AVH. He couldn’t be reached again before his office closed at 4 p.m. to see what he learned.Basalt police used information obtained from Labor Source during the investigation to discover that Lozano, 41, had a criminal history in California for fraud, forgery, theft, burglary and possession with the intent to sell drugs, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.Jellinek said the hospital’s review of Lozano’s application raised questions about his truthfulness in answering questions.Lozano worked in the AVH billing and collections office for six weeks before he said he needed time off for surgery in Grand Junction. He never returned to work.Collins said there has been no further use of the credit cards since Lozano allegedly made the initial purchases. He said he assumed the cardholders had their cards canceled and reissued with different numbers. If anyone who used a card to pay for services at AVH wasn’t able to get credit for all unauthorized purchases on the cards, “Clearly we’d make them whole,” he said.Jellinek and Collins noted that identity theft and fraudulent use of financial devices is a widespread problem that has affected thousands of businesses, just like it affected AVH.”It’s very unfortunate, but there’s nothing we could do about it,” Jellinek said.Lozano was arrested on three charges of felony unauthorized use of a financial transaction device, three misdemeanor charges of the same type, theft and criminal impersonation. Court documents allege he racked up thousands of dollars of charges in the alleged fraudulent use of the credit cards, but the total isn’t clear yet.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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