Hospitals deport undocumented patients

In 2010, Quelino Ojeda Jiménez was working atop a building at Chicago’s Midway Airport when he fell to the ground below. He suffered injuries that left him nearly quadriplegic and relying on a ventilator.

Three days before Christmas 2011, Advocate Christ Medical Center, over the objections of his family and Jiménez himself, crying and unable to speak, put him on an airplane and shipped him off to Mexico. The hospital in Mexico where Jiménez was sent could offer him no rehabilitation services and could not afford new filters for his ventilator.

After suffering two heart attacks and a septic infection, Jiménez died on Jan. 2, 2012 (The Latin Times, April 23).

Profit-hungry hospitals in the U.S. have deported more than 600 undocumented immigrants over the last five years who were actually unconscious, according to the Center for Social Justice and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

Often they lie to the families, telling them that the patient “wished to be deported.” (Salon.com, April 23)

In Iowa, two undocumented workers, Jacinto Cruz and Rodríguez Saldana, who did have health insurance from their employer, were severely injured in a car accident. Their insurance did cover their emergency care. But then the hospital administration, uncertain whether their insurance would cover their long-term care — even though the two men were both in a comatose state — decided to fly them to Mexico. The two men awoke to find themselves 1,800 miles away in a hospital in Veracruz, Mexico.

They have not recovered enough to continue working and continue to suffer from medical complications from this action.

The hospital claimed that the families agreed to this, but the families vigorously deny that. Legal suits were filed, but were thrown out by U.S. courts.

The hospitals call this practice “medical repatriation.” These patients have no advocates and there are no hearings. There is no government or medical oversight of this practice. Some patients have died, and others have suffered lingering medical complications from their forced removal. And it also terrifies other immigrants away from seeking urgently needed medical care for themselves and their families.

Immigrant advocates and civil rights groups point out that this practice violates U.S. and international law, and targets one of the most defenseless, marginalized populations.

Why is this happening? While the hospital staff of nurses, physicians and other workers strives together to heal devastating injuries and cure terrible diseases, hospital administrators have been carefully monitoring their bottom lines and their cash flow.

Once the hospital has determined that an undocumented worker’s condition has “stabilized,” these administrators have decided that they are entitled to remove patients from their beds even while they are unconscious and fly them out of the country. This allows the hospital to avoid delivering rehabilitation and long-term care.

The U.S. government claims that it has no role in this practice. But in fact, it is the U.S. and many state governments’ refusal to ensure medical care for undocumented workers that reinforces this gruesome hospital policy. And the new health care act (Obamacare) actually increases pressure on hospitals to do this, as it lowers payments for them to care for the uninsured.

It should be noted that the proposed immigration “reform” legislation, S.744, does not forbid or even address this “medical repatriation” practice. The right to decent medical care is not provided for in this much-trumpeted bill.

In 2009, the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs issued a directive to doctors not to “allow hospital administrators to use their significant power and the current lack of regulations” to send patients to other countries.

This is a fine statement. But it is the current capitalist system of “profits before people” that breeds this barbaric practice. It will take a strong mass struggle to demand health care for all, including both the documented and the undocumented, to resolve this issue once and for all.