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Local Ethicist Discusses Hospital Deportation Ruling

On Monday, a jury found that a Florida hospital acted reasonably when it sent a seriously brain injured illegal immigrant back to his home in Guatemala. KSMU’s Matt Evans spoke with a local medical ethicist about the verdict.

In 2000, a drunk driver crashed into a van in which Luis Jimenez was riding, leaving him a paraplegic with the cognitive ability of a fourth-grader. Jimenez was under the care of Martin Memorial Medical Center in Stuart, Florida until 2003, when the hospital deported him back to Guatemala on a privately chartered plane.Jimenez’s legal guardian and cousin, Montejo Gaspar, then filed a lawsuit against the hospital of nearly $1 million to cover the estimated lifetime costs of Jimenez’s care in Guatemala as well as damages. Earlier this week, a 6-member jury unanimously ruled in favor of the hospital.The case is one that brings light to a widely unknown problem in the United States health care system.“Caring for undocumenteds has become a very significant role with most hospitals.”Dr. Robert Saylors is the director of ethics at St. Johns Health Systems. He says treating illegal immigrants, or “undocumenteds,” has become a nationwide concern because under federal law a hospital must provide an acceptable discharge plan, but other facilities won’t take a patient without a payer source.“This places an additional burden on the hospitals since these people may be here for a much longer period of time. And that’s different than those patients that come in without insurance, but are citizens of the United States. We have the ability to apply for Medicaid or other sources.”With all the talk about restructuring America’s health care system, Saylors says this particular issue is not being addressed, but needs to be.“There is no doubt this is a loss leader for most institutions.”St. Johns has also seen undocumented individuals come through its doors for treatment.“We have treated undocumenteds in our system. We are required by Medicare to treat anyone that comes into the hospital or into the emergency room who is seeking medical care.”Saylors adds that the circumstances and the severity of the injury play a vital role in the discharge of these patients--whether they're released into the community or deported to their home country.Jimenez has been released from the Guatemalan hospital and is now living with his 73-year-old mother in mountainous state of Huehuetenango.For KSMU News, I’m Matt Evans.