Seventeen New York hospitals and health systems sued 1,600 patients, collecting $9 million in medical debts since 2022, according to a USA Today report released last July. One woman's husband was sued for more than $10,000 by SUNY Upstate Medical University before he passed away from pancreatic cancer.

“I couldn’t understand why they would sue a terminally ill man – and neither could he," said Linda Koberna.

Her fiancée Harry passed away from pancreatic cancer last September. Before he died, SUNY Upstate Medical University sued him due to issues with his cancer treatment payments.

“We were walking up the stairs and we saw papers in front of our door," she said. "I automatically knew what it was. Upstate Hospital was suing him for $10,699."

His Social Security Disability Insurance previously covered treatments he received at other medical facilities. They found out it didn’t cover treatment at Upstate when they saw the papers at their door.

“You get so overwhelmed with doctors’ appointments and paperwork, that six months goes by fast," Koberna said. "And then all of a sudden, you get a lawsuit sitting at your door.”

State Senator Rachel May and Onondaga County legislators are calling for a permanent ban on lawsuits against patients. Koberna’s story is close to home for May. Her husband Frank faced medical debt before he died from brain cancer.

“It wasn’t too long before he died that he said to me he hoped he would die before he hit the limit," said May. "It’s not a conversation you’d ever want to have with a loved one.”

“It’s absolutely infuriating that our hospitals are getting millions of dollars that are supposed to go to help patients, but instead they’re putting patients in hell with things like lawsuits," said Ursula Rozum, the statewide lead for Health Care for Citizen Action of New York.

“Health care is a human right for everyone regardless of class, regardless of race, regardless of gender," Democratic Onondaga County Legislator Maurice Brown said. "I don’t think that this is something we need to nitpick. I think everybody needs to be together in this fight.”

“Hopefully, together we can make a change," Koberna said.