Cincinnati Children’s exists to be a place of hope and healing. But sometimes, despite the best that medicine has to offer, we can’t prevent a child’s death.

In those tragic cases, when parents are going home to bury their child, is there a final gift of compassion we can give to support families suffering an agonizing loss?

Parents on our End of Life Committee pointed the way when they described their pain dealing with hospital bills immediately after their child’s death.

“The day we came home from the funeral, there was a bill from the hospital,” recalls committee member Brenda Harkleroad. “On the one-year anniversary of Abbie’s death, we were still dealing with the bills. We got a phone call that day about a bill and my husband burst into tears.”

The End of Life Committee found partners across the hospital who wanted to help.

“No one said ‘No,’ ” says Jan Borgman, bereavement manager. From the Billing Department to the Board of Trustees, there was agreement to remove the burden of dealing with paperwork and insurance companies from grieving families.

Cincinnati Children’s comprehensive electronic medical record system made it possible to identify every death in the hospital and automatically flag the scheduling, registration and billing systems. Community physicians, social workers and others notify us of patients who die outside the hospital.

Once we learn that a patient has died, whether in the hospital or off-site, mailings to the family stop. We don’t send bills. We don’t send reminders for appointments that may have been scheduled in advance.

“We consider this is a ‘never event’ in billing,” says Chris Lah, director of Billing Customer Service. “Out of respect for their grief, we won’t approach the family.”

Billing Customer Service works behind the scenes with the insurance company to resolve outstanding bills as quickly as possible. They have found that insurance companies are grateful to settle the account quickly, as well. And if insurance does not cover the entire bill, we absorb unpaid costs.

It is an immeasurable service to grieving families.

“After your child dies, you’re barely coping,” recalls Debbie Ogden. “You get up every day and just go through the motions. It’s an amazing feeling to know that the hospital cares that much to take off the burden of dealing with insurance.”

In the last three years, Cincinnati Children’s has helped more than 1,000 bereaved families and absorbed over $2 million in unpaid costs.