Harbor Country agencies team up to forgive medical debt

Scott Gannon Patton, director of development with RIP Medical Debt; Pastor Dalton Stanage, Lake Street Community Church, and Dave Heyn, executive director of Harbor Country Mission, with a $15,000 donation from the Klint family for relief of medical debt for impoverished families. The donation was made in the name of Bob Klint, who was killed in August in a vehicle accident along with his wife, daughter and brother-in-law.

ST. JOSEPH — A Berrien County family that experienced a tragic loss along with several local charities are teaming together to help those facing crushing medical debt.

Harbor Country Mission and Lake Street Community Church, both of Bridgman, and the I CAN Cafe in New Buffalo, received a $15,000 donation from the Klint family, which will be given to RIP Medical Relief to pay off the medical debts of those facing poverty.

The donation was made in the name of Bob Klint, of Buchanan, who spearheaded the drive but was killed in August in a vehicle accident that also took the life of his wife, daughter and brother-in-law. In lieu of flowers, the family asked for contributions toward this cause.

The money will go a long way. The New York-based nonprofit buys up medical debt for pennies on the dollar and forgives it. On average, $1 can abolish $100 in medical debt. In this region of Michigan, the organization will be able to wipe out $200 in debt for every $1 donated. The goal on the Harbor Country organizations is to forgive $1.5 million in debt for 1,500 families in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties.

The presentation was made before the Berrien County Board of Commissioners on Thursday. Commissioner Teri Freehling has been a key supporter of the Harbor Country Mission and in promoting the fundraiser. She is also friends with the Klint family.

Dave Heyn, executive director of Harbor Country Mission, explained that excessive medical bills are the number one cause of personal bankruptcy.

More than $100 billion in unpaid medical debt each year impacts patients, physicians and hospitals, added David Yardley, director of development for HCM.

More than 52 percent of Americans have a medical collection on their credit report. According to RIP Medical Relief, in Michigan that adds up to $1.9 billion in medical debt on credit reports, with 20 percent of the state’s population carrying medical debts.

RIP calculates that less than 10 percent of medical debt ends up on a credit report, and it estimates that $1 trillion in owed by Americans, accumulated over the last eight to 10 years.

Pastor Dalton Strange, with Lake Street Community Church, talked about how medical debt hurts the health of his parishioners.

“When you’re already in debt because of your health care, you let chronic illnesses go until it’s an emergency,” he said. “People don’t go to the doctor, they don’t get their medications filled. Too many people are just one medical emergency away from a bankruptcy.”

Those eligible for debt forgiveness earn less than two times the federal poverty level; have debts that are 5 percent or more of their annual income; or are facing insolvency from debts that are greater than their assets.

As soon as the debt is purchased, the recipients receive a letter letting them know that the debt has been forgiven. To date, RIP has abolished $919 million in medical debt, including $50 million for veterans.

Harbor Country Mission, at 12816 Red Arrow Highway, assists those in poverty or facing poverty, through homeless outreach, food and clothing collections and distribution, a pet food pantry and its Vintage Finds store. They can be contacted at 269-326-0077.

The I CAN Cafe, at 910 W. Buffalo St., New Buffalo, has a full menu and donates 100 percent of its proceeds to local and global causes.

Information about donating to relieve medical debt is at www.ripmedicaldebt.org.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak