Society

U.S. Hospitals Deport Hundreds of Unconscious Immigrants to Save Money

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Hundreds of immigrants have been deported from hospitals in America while they were unconscious after the health care system decided it would cost too much to keep them.

According to Salon, two men were recently flown back to Mexico while unconscious after they were badly injured in a car accident.

Jacinto Cruz and Jose Rodriguez Saldana were recovering in an Iowa hospital. They both had health insurance from jobs at a large pork manufacturing company, but neither had legal permission to live in America. 

The hospital did not know for certain if their insurance would pay for the long-term rehabilitation they needed.

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Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines decided then to fly the men out on a private jet back to Mexico. They said they received permission from the men's families, but the families deny it.

After they woke up, they found they were more than 1,800 away from their original hospital.

There are hundreds more like Cruz and Saldana who have been deported while unconscious by hospitals. The government is not involved in these deportations, it is the decision of the health care system to send them back to their home countries in an effort to curb the high cost of keeping them.

In a five year period, at least 600 immigrants were deported, but there is likely more.

It is called "medical repatriation," and it involves putting patients on chartered international flights, usually while they are unconscious. Hospitals pay for these flights.

"The problem is it's all taking place in this unregulated sort of a black hole … and there is no tracking," law professor Lori Nessel, director of the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School, said. 

Now people are worried that hospitals will expand the practice after the implementation of federal health care reform. 

Dr. Mark Purtle, vice president of Medical Affairs for Iowa Health System, said, "It really is a Catch-22 for us. This is the area that the federal government, the state, everybody says we're not paying for the undocumented."

All hospitals are required to care for patients regardless of whether or not they are citizens or if they have the ability to pay. But that rule changes once the patient is stabilized. 

Many hospitals decide to send patients who need rehabilitation back to their home countries due to the expenses.

Many say the practice is violating U.S. and international laws as it unfairly targets a defenseless population.

"They don't have advocates, and they don't have people who will speak on their behalf," Miami attorney John De Leon said.

Many hospitals attempt to contact immigration authorities when they have patients who do not have documentation, but most of these calls are ignored, prompting hospitals to take matters into their own hands.

Jan Stipe, who runs the Iowa Methodist department that finds hospitals in patients' native countries to care for them, said it is the hospitals goal to get their patients back to support systems.

But the American Medical Association's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs told doctors in 2009 to not "allow hospital administrators to use their significant power and the lack of regulations to send patients to other countries."

While doctors can't expect hospitals to care for patients without compensation, they said doctors can not allow "hospitals to arbitrarily determine the fate of an uninsured noncitizen immigrant patient."

Sources: Salon, WPTV