Comatose Illegal Alien to be Deported
Posted by shadmia on August 21, 2008
This is the story of 30-year-old Francisco Pantaleon, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. He had a brain hemorrhage and is in a coma at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago. The hospital wants to send him back to Mexico. They say they have the permission of his immediate family but his sister and a cousin have retained a lawyer to fight his deportation.
There is something about this story that just seems wrong to me. Have we, as a nation, forgotten what it is to be compassionate? Yes, we are talking about an illegal immigrant who has no insurance and will very likely need intensive, long term medical care. But we are also talking about a human being who has spent 11 years in this country working menial jobs to support his family and who, by no fault of his own, became sick. It seems to me on a purely humanitarian level he deserves to be treated with the same level of medical assistance offered to any citizen or legal resident. He is after all a human being.
According to his sister, Socorro, Francisco Pantaleon, 30, arrived illegally in the United States 11 years ago. He has two children and worked at a carwash but has no insurance. In mid-July Mr. Pantaleon suffered a severe brain hemorrhage. He is currently in a coma at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago. His case has brought to light a little known policy of hospitals to send medically needy undocumented immigrants back to their countries of origin.
The hospital claims the immediate family has consented to have Francisco returned to Mexico. In a statement the hospital said that since there is “little hope for recovery” they have arranged, at their own expense, to send him to a hospital in Acapulco. Pantaleon’s wife was not available to confirm or deny this.
Pantaleon’s sister and cousin are protesting that arrangement and have retained lawyers in hopes of preventing it. “This is an injustice,” said his sister, who worries that Pantaleon won’t survive the trip or find adequate care in Mexico.
Legally hospitals are required to treat and stabilize anyone who is in need of emergency medical assistance, regardless of their immigration or insurance status. But here is where it gets murky: After stabilizing a patient hospitals are required to arrange to transfer patients to settings where they can receive adequate care said Doreena Wong, staff attorney for the National Health Law Program. The problem is nursing homes in Chicago usually will not serve undocumented immigrants who don’t have health insurance or any means to pay for care.
“We can’t arrange long-term care here, so we try to do the best we can in the country of origin,” said Dr. William Chamberlin, chief medical officer at UIC Medical Center.
According to Sonal Ambegaokar, health policy attorney at the National Immigrant Law Center, this may put the hospital in the position of acting as an immigration agent by effectively getting into the deportation business. She suggests that their actions may deprive the patient of due process.
“It’s important to make sure that hospitals aren’t permitted to dump patients on an international level when they can’t do it on a local level,” said James Geraghty, a Chicago lawyer working with Pantaleon’s sister and cousin.
The hospital is of course concerned with the cost of providing patient care with limited financial resources.
“Hospitals don’t have the financial resources to meet all of the acute care needs [of patients without insurance], let alone take on all the chronic care needs that present with patients like this,” Chamberlin said.
Howard Peters, senior vice president of government relations at the Illinois Hospital Association, said “the family ought to be grateful” that UIC found a facility in Mexico willing to take Pantaleon and volunteered to pay for the trip.
The New York Times has a similar story about Luis Alberto Jiménez, another illegal immigrant who suffered brain damage after being involved in a car accident with a drunken driver. The hospital wanted to send him home to his native Guatemala. Lawyers filed a suit on his behalf which the hospital won, but while the case was being appealed the hospital went ahead and deported him. The lawyers won the case on appeal but Jiménez was already in Guatemala where, after a brief stay in a local hospital, he was sent home to fend for himself. See the Luis Alberto Jimenez story here.
I understand that hospitals have financial concerns and that the cost of medical care in this country is outrageous. However, a hospital, by its very definition, is a place where people go when they need medical assistance. We as a society, have the responsibility to take care of our sick. Even the vilest of criminals in the penal system are afforded medical attention. There is something wrong with the system when the bottom line is more important than a human life. There should be no discrimination nor proof of residency nor proof of insurance status when it comes to providing health care. But for the accident of birth you or your loved one could be Francisco or Luis.