DES MOINES, Iowa—Over the last five years, American hospitals have sent at least 600 immigrants who were in the US illegally back to their home countries to avoid paying for long-term care after serious illness or injury.
The Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall University has documented “medical repatriation” cases in 15 states involving patients from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Lithuania, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea.
Here’s a look at some of the most dramatic examples from a report issued in December:
Quelino Ojeda Jimenez was working atop a building at Chicago’s Midway Airport in 2010 when he fell, suffering injuries that left him nearly quadriplegic and reliant on a ventilator.
Advocate Christ Medical Center cared for Jimenez for four months, absorbing more than $650,000 in costs, according to a 2011 Chicago Tribune story.
Three days before Christmas that year, the hospital put him aboard a medical flight and sent him to Mexico, even though his family protested. Crying and unable to speak, Jimenez could do nothing to prevent his removal.
The receiving hospital in Mexico lacked rehabilitation services and could not afford new filters for his ventilator. After suffering two heart attacks and a septic infection, Jimenez died on Jan. 2, 2012.
Luis Alberto Jimenez was working as a landscaper in Florida when the car he was in was struck by a drunk driver in February 2000.
Jimenez, then 35, suffered brain damage and other injuries and was treated at Martin Memorial Medical Center in Stuart, Fla., until June, when he was transferred to a nursing home.
The following January, he was readmitted to the hospital with an infection that doctors feared could be fatal. He stayed at the hospital for a year because no other long-term care provider would take him.
The hospital eventually filed a lawsuit in state court seeking permission to transport him to a hospital in his native Guatemala. A judge approved the flight in June 2003, and Jimenez was flown to Guatemala before the court could rule on an appeal filed by his legal guardian.
In mid-2004, the Florida District Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s order, declaring that state courts do not have the authority to permit deportations, which are regulated by federal immigration law. But by then Jimenez had been returned home, bedridden and suffering from seizures, to live with his elderly mother in a remote area of Guatemala.
Barbara Latasiewicz was working as a housekeeper in the Chicago area in 2009 when she had a stroke while scrubbing a bathtub. The Polish woman was paralyzed on her left side and needed around-the-clock care.
Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital tried to find her long-term care, but 30 facilities refused to take her because she was undocumented. Latasiewicz had overstayed a temporary visa after arriving in the U.S. in 1990.
The hospital allowed her to stay without insurance or any other way to pay for 2½ years at a cost of more than $1.4 million.
In early 2012, arrangements were made to transfer her to a stroke-specialty unit in Poland. She refused to consent to the transfer, which would permanently separate her from her son and grandchildren. The hospital obtained a judge’s order allowing her transfer to Poland.
A March 1 story in the Chicago Tribune says the 60-year-old woman cried while sitting in the airport awaiting a flight out, knowing she would probably never return to the US, which had been her home for more than 20 years.