My opinion: Though this ties into the overall immigrant issue in this country, I believe that these situations involve extra problems. It is still debatable whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in this country. However, if they need immediate healthcare, is it really ethical to deport them right away? What's even worse is that the hospital did not consult the legal system before sending the men off. At the very least, the hospitals should be more aware of the laws, but then again, the laws could be changed to create more beneficial outcomes. It would be interesting to see if Canada supports illegal immigrants in this manner, considering that the country has universal healthcare. Also, if something like this occurred to an uninsured European citizen in America, would the same thing happen? Or is there a stigma that makes illegal Hispanic immigrants more prone to deportation? Finally, I'd like to know how the patients are treated when airborne. Is there a doctor, or are they just left alone? What happens if they die in flight? I think these questions need to be considered before even coming close to a reasonable solution. Feel free to comment.
U.S. hospitals send hundreds of immigrants back home
Jacinto Rodriguez Cruz, 49, sits on a sofa inside his home in the city of Veracruz, Mexico. Cruz and another friend suffered serious injuries during a car accident in May 2008 in northwestern Iowa. After their employers insurance coverage ran out, Cruz, who was not a legal citizen, was placed on a private airplane and flown to Mexico still comatose and unable to discuss his care or voice his protest. Hospitals confronted with absorbing the cost of caring for uninsured seriously injured immigrants are quietly deporting them, often unconscious and unable to protest, back to their home countries.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The men had health insurance from jobs at one of the nation’s largest pork producers. But neither had legal permission to live in the U.S., nor was it clear whether their insurance would pay for the long-term rehabilitation they needed.
So Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines took matters into its own hands: After consulting with the patients’ families, it quietly loaded the two comatose men onto a private jet that flew them back to Mexico, effectively deporting them without consulting any court or federal agency.
When the men awoke, they were more than 1,800 miles away in a hospital in Veracruz, on the Mexican Gulf Coast.
Hundreds of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally have taken similar journeys through a little-known removal system run not by the federal government trying to enforce laws but by hospitals seeking to curb high costs. A recent report compiled by immigrant advocacy groups made a rare attempt to determine how many people are sent home, concluding that at least 600 immigrants were removed over a five-year period, though there were likely many more.
In interviews with immigrants, their families, attorneys and advocates, The Associated Press reviewed the obscure process known formally as “medical repatriation,” which allows hospitals to put patients on chartered international flights, often while they are still unconscious. Hospitals typically pay for the flights.
“The problem is it’s all taking place in this unregulated sort of a black hole ... and there is no tracking,” said law professor Lori Nessel, director of the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School, which offers free legal representation to immigrants.
Now advocates for immigrants are concerned that hospitals could soon begin expanding the practice after full implementation of federal health care reform, which will make deep cuts to the payments hospitals receive for taking care of the uninsured.
Health care executives say they are caught between a requirement to accept all patients and a political battle over immigration.
“It really is a Catch-22 for us,” said Dr. Mark Purtle, vice president of Medical Affairs for Iowa Health System, which includes Iowa Methodist Medical Center. “This is the area that the federal government, the state, everybody says we’re not paying for the undocumented.”