Bay Area hospitals ask Congress for help fighting robocall epidemic

A Tampa hospital is battling an epidemic that's spreading like a virus, but it's not a disease. It's robocalls.

Moffitt Cancer Center's Dave Summitt testified before Congress on the issue in April, saying the calls go far beyond annoyance.

"It goes much deeper," Summitt said in his testimony. "It is starting to impact patient care at our facilities across the nation."

Robocalls are an issue nationwide, but Florida has been named among the worst states. More than 3.8 billion robocalls were placed to Floridians in 2018 alone.

The offenders targeting hospitals use a trick called spoofing to make it look like the calls are coming from the hospital.

"The first quarter of this year, Moffitt saw an increase of those calls coming in," Summitt said. "We hit a log of a little over 6,600 calls. We would pick up, and they would get a 100% return on their bang. We pick up the phone, [they say] it's Moffitt. That lead into Moffitt's name and ID used throughout the community, state, and nation as someone getting a call from the cancer center."

And it's not just at Moffitt.

"Locally, it's Tampa General, it's Bay Care," he said. "There's just several throughout the United States."

Eighteen hospitals have lobbied congress and the FCC to take action against robo-callers. Hospitals worry the callers will eventually overwhelm phone lines that should be free during emergencies.

"It's a multi-faced effort to put this down." Summitt said. "What we're attempting to do on the legislative side is update existing laws and pass new laws that can give the FCC more power to do something about it. And even go after the bad actors."