GOLD BEACH andndash; The board of the financially-struggling Curry Health District is considering the possibility of hiring HealthFirst Financial to help collect a larger portion of outstanding debt by financing loans to the district's patients.

The board of directors on Thursday listen to a proposal presented by a company representative.

"We consider ourselves more than just a financial source," said Jeff Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing of HealthFirst, of Springfield, a division of Hawes Financial Group.

"We are your financial partner striving to work together to implement the best practices where appropriate for the best possible financial results andndash; reduce bad debt and improve collection rates."

Johnson explained the company would also help to improve patient satisfaction by offering flexible payment plans that better fit into the patients' budget.

Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing, said the group is a private corporation, not owned by banks. He said much of the financing comes from Umpqua Bank.

He said the plan would reduce bad debt by an average of 7 to 10 percent.

Unlike bank loans, that require a patient to have good credit to receive the loan, that is not required by HealthFirst.

Instead, the company takes over billing for the hospital for the first three months of the loan, charging the district 10 percent of the loan payment.

After three months, when the patient has established a record for making regular payments, HealthFirst pays off the entire loan to the hospital. However, if the patient stops making payments, the amount still owed is billed back to the hospital.

"Psychology of a patient will pay a third party over a health care facility," Johnson said.

"Patients are more likely to pay if the payments are within their means," he said.

"Collections agencies recover about 25 percent and cost 25 percent," Johnson's presentation said. "We collect about 86 percent."

He said the patient will benefit by having peace of mind. Long term payment plans are up to 60 months or longer. There is no credit-based qualification criteria. They receive immediate approval. They have affordable and flexible payment terms, including payment skipping options. Payments would be as low as $25 to fit any patient's budgetary needs.