An Ontario man whose wife spent six weeks in hospital last year wants answers from a business that provides in-room TV at hospitals across the country, saying the company's prices are too high and its policies too rigid.
Wendi Wolf was admitted to Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital last May to deal with complications from brain cancer and a fall. When she arrived at the newly built hospital, she was able to order additional services like TV, telephone and internet.
The service came from a company called Hospitality Network, which works with more than 200 hospitals across the country. Rates for their package of services vary from $8 a day, to over $17 a day at some health centres.
When Wendi ordered her package, she just wanted TV but could only access a bundled package, which at the time cost $16.95 a day.
According to her husband, Frank Wolf, "what they're charging is not right, and how they're doing it, to me, is not right."
"There's no reason why you need to charge $17 a day for a TV that you plug in the cable and away you go," he said.
Wolf isn't alone in his frustration with the company's pricing — CBC's Marketplace has received dozens of complaints from Hospitality Network customers across the country. Most were about pricing, but some were about how hard it can be to get a refund from the company.
Wendi said that when she arrived at the Oakville hospital, she had "no idea" how long she'd be there. The company offered daily, weekly and monthly rates. Uncertain about the length of her stay, she first chose the more expensive daily rate, and later opted for the slightly discounted weekly option.
"The fact is you are in there as a patient and you don't know when you will get out," her husband said.
In the end, Wendi was there six weeks. Her final bill came in at $624.60.
Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital patients have access to a Hospitality Network package that includes TV, phone, internet, movies and games. Customers can't opt for individual components — prices are for the full package. Rates increased slightly in early 2017, but when Wendi was hospitalized, rates including HST were:
- Daily: $16.95.
- Weekly: $96.05.
- Monthly: $254.25.
The couple complained to Hospitality Network, asking to have their fee adjusted down to the lower monthly rate, which would have saved the family $130.
Frank was told by a call centre representative that a refund wasn't possible.
Company cites costs
When asked how prices are set and why they vary so greatly hospital to hospital, Hospitality Network president and CEO Serge Lafleur said prices are based on private negotiations between the company and individual hospitals or health groups.
The company pays for equipment, he said, but TV content and revenue sharing with hospitals are its biggest expenses.
"The difference really is based on how long has the equipment been there, what kind of agreement do we have in place with the hospital? For example, how much revenue share do we have to consider."
Lafleur wouldn't offer specifics on what the Hospitality Network actually pays for cable hook-ups. But he said the company is charged a monthly price per outlet by the cable provider, regardless of whether the service is being used.
He didn't provide details on the private company's profits either, but said that over the last five years, the company has "given back over $21 million to hospitals in Canada."
The hospital says it doesn't receive any revenue from the personal entertainment services at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. A spokesperson for the hospital added that it provides free TV to patients using treatment stations in the cancer clinic and the hemodialysis clinic, as well as in the lounges of inpatient mental health units.
"It's our understanding that HN offers patients in our Complex Continuing Care unit (who typically stay longer in the hospital) with a reduced rate and will also extend such a discount to others for compassionate reasons, if asked," a statement from the hospital said.
Frank says he understands the company needs to make a profit — he used to run a business himself — but he has complaints about the way payments are structured and the rigidity of the company's policies.
Despite being told several times by Hospitality Network employees that the company does not offer any refunds or make adjustments, Frank escalated his call to a refund committee and was eventually offered a credit for future service, should Wendi return to hospital.
It's a process Frank thinks he should not have had to endure.
"You're taking advantage of a patient, not just Wendi, but all the other patients that come in," said Frank. "Because you go into a hospital — how long am I going to be in here, you don't know if it's going to be one day, two days, or a week, or whatever."
When Lafleur was told of Frank's story, he agreed he should have been given a refund.