Friday, August 08, 2008

What's the difference between the INS and U.S. Hospitals?

Answer: Only INS has the legal right to deport illegal immigrants.

Yet, some U.S. hospitals have taken it upon themselves to deport patients who are illegal when they overstay their welcome. In this NYTimes piece, writer Deborah Sontag chronicles the journey of an illegal immigrant from Guatemala Luis Alberto Jiménez and his misadventures with Martin Memorial hospital in Florida. After work one day, Mr. Jimenez was in a car driving home when the car he was in was struck by a drunk driver. He was taken Martin Memorial where he was initially given a poor prognosis due to his traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other trauma. He was in a comatose state for nearly a year. But then:
Eight years ago, Mr. Jiménez, 35, an illegal immigrant working as a gardener in Stuart, Fla., suffered devastating injuries in a car crash with a drunken Floridian. A community hospital saved his life, twice, and, after failing to find a rehabilitation center willing to accept an uninsured patient, kept him as a ward for years at a cost of $1.5 million.
What happened next set the stage for a continuing legal battle with nationwide repercussions: Mr. Jiménez was deported — not by the federal government but by the hospital, Martin Memorial. After winning a state court order that would later be declared invalid, Martin Memorial leased an air ambulance for $30,000 and “forcibly returned him to his home country,” as one hospital administrator described it.
While I understand the hospital's dilemma, the article notes that other options were available:
Jack Scarola, representing Mr. Jiménez’s guardian, said that he empathized with the hospital’s “significant economic burden” but said that it was the “quid pro quo” of accepting Medicare and Medicaid funds to help finance the hospital’s services. (About 45 percent of Martin Memorial’s net operating revenues came from Medicare and Medicaid last year, based on state data.)
“Also,” he continued, “they chose the wrong way to deal with it. The right way would have been through the Legislature. There is no program in place to appropriately distribute care to undocumented persons who are catastrophically injured, and there should be. But you don’t stick a brain-injured immigrant on a private plane and spirit him out of the country in the predawn hours.”
Keep reading to see what kind of conditions the hospital left Mr. Jimenez in. In public hospitals, as many medical students know, the issue of 'disposition' often becomes a patient's most significant one, far outshadowing their medical concerns. Still, no matter how dire the disposition issue may be, hospitals and communities must find better solutions than dumping their patients overseas.


  1. this story highlights everything that is wrong with the current health care system and with our awful way of treating illegal "aliens."
    People are people and under no circumstances ought to be dumped; surely we can come up with better solutions to this problem.

  2. Agreed. It is especially ridiculous when one considers the lengths these hospitals go to in order to rid themselves of their patients. What is truly sad that even in states that have "catastrophic care" funds, my understanding is that they usually exclude patients like this one.



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