By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One-thousand-eight-hundred families in Minnesota have had their mounting medical bills paid off thanks to local nurses.

Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association worked with a New York-based nonprofit to acquire and erase the debt.

Nurses say they felt they needed to pay back their patients’ kindness.

One year ago today, Allina nurses represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association went on strike.

Nurses say the support from the community was overwhelming, that’s why the union decided to do something to help the people who helped them.

They knew the best way to help was by wiping out medical debt.

“Sixty-two percent of all bankruptcies in this country are due to medical debt and I believe it’s more than 80 percent of all of those folks had health insurance,” said Rose Roach, Minnesota Nurses Association Executive Director.

MNA worked with RIP medical debt to clear the accounts of more than 1,800 people.

They negotiated the more than $2.6 million in debt down to $28,000, the money came from MNA’s  general fund.

(credit: CBS)

“At the time when I started going into debt I just wanted my hip fixed. I didn’t think what it was going to cost me,” said Debra Puchala.

A hip replacement in 2015 and a shoulder replacement in 2016 put Debra Puchala in more than $10,000 in debt.

“I have a total of four in collection and I am paying off five that aren’t in collection but probably will be because I don’t make as much as they want me to pay and I just pay what I can,” Puchala said.

Nurses say they want to highlight medical debt and the problems it can cause when people aren’t able to pay it off.

“You can only be stretched so far until you almost break,” Puchala said.

The patients who had their debt wiped clean signed up on RIP medical debt’s website and were selected randomly.

The Minnesota Nurses Association is looking for other ways to raise awareness about the program and how it can help more Minnesotans get out of debt.

Reg Chapman