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This Just In - Luis Jimenez Jury Sides With Hospital

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, July 27, 2009 4:10 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Immigration, Brain Injured, Parapalegic, Deportation, Health Care Reform

The six-person jury in Stuart Florida has sided with the hospital in the case of an injured undocumented worker.

Jury Sides with Hospital

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IMAGE SOURCE:  So Florida Sun Sentinel Web site/ image of Luis Jimenez

 

The family of a man deported to Guatemala after he was hit by a car and left a paraplegic and brain injured, had sought $1 million for his continuing care in that country. 

Monday a jury found in favor of the Treasure Coast hospital that quietly sent him back to Guatemala, against his family’s wishes. 

The six-person jury in Stuart, Florida found unanimously in favor of Martin Memorial Medical Center and decided that it did not act unreasonably by sending Jimenez, 37, back to Guatemala where he lives with his mother in a remote one-room home.   The guardian for the legal guardian for Luis Jimenez sought $1 million for his continuing care, even after the hospital spent more than $1 million in caring for Mr. Jimenez after his accident. 

37-year-old Luis Jimenez, a Mayan Indian, was working in Florida and sending money back home to his wife and young sons when in 2000, a drunk driver hit the van in which he was riding.  Jimenez was left a paraplegic with severe brain injury and disabilities.  His cousin, Montejo Gaspar became his legal guardian, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Salon.com reports that the car had been stolen and two others were killed.  An insurance policy paid $30,000 split among the three estates. 

"We are obviously pleased with the jury's decision," said Mark Robitaille, president and chief executive officer of Martin Memorial Health Systems, which runs the hospital. "We have maintained all along that we acted correctly and, most importantly, in the best interests of Mr. Jimenez."

Robitaille says the issue of providing care for undocumented workers is unresolved and potentially pits the state against the federal government.  “This is not simply an issue facing Martin Memorial. It is a critical dilemma facing health care providers across Florida and across the United States,” Robitaille said.  

Public sentiment displayed among those writing to USA Today are on the side of the hospital. 

Background Story from Last Week: 

Jury Will Decide If Unreasonable and Unwarrented

A South Florida hospital quietly chartered a plane and sent a brain-injured Guatemalan man back to his country over the objections of his family and guardian.  Now a case against the hospital is in the hands of the jury. 

Closing arguments concluded Thursday in a first-of-its kind case that pits health care against immigration and tests whether hospitals should provide long-term care for patients who don’t qualify for state and federal aid. 

37-year-old Luis Jimenez, a Mayan Indian, was an illegal immigrant, working in Florida and sending money back home to his wife and young sons when in 2000, a drunk driver hit the van in which he was riding.  Jimenez was left a paraplegic with severe brain injury and disabilities.  His cousin, Montejo Gaspar became his legal guardian, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Over three years,  Martin Memorial Medical Center in Stuart, Florida provided $1.5 million worth of care. 

But the hospital sought a letter from the Guatemalan government and got a Florida judge to order a transfer of the patient.  In July 2003, it quietly chartered a $30,000 charter plane and flew Jimenez back to Guatemala, without telling the family.  His cousin, Gaspar filed an emergency request to stop the transfer. 

Illegal

Federal law states the hospital was required to care for Jimenez. Hospitals that receive Medicare reimbursements are required to provide emergency care until a patient is stabilized and a discharge plan is filed.

The problem was that no institution would care for Jimenez because of his immigration status.  

His cousin filed the lawsuit seeking nearly $1 million to cover Jimenez’s lifetime care costs in Guatemala. Also included are punitive damages to discourage other hospitals for deporting patients, a job usually left up to federal immigration authorities.

A 2004 appeals court decision established the hospital overstepped its authority by sending Jimenez back to Guatemala and that he was “unlawfully detained and deprived of liberty”.

But in his closing arguments of the month-long trial, hospital attorney, Scott Machaud asked the six-member jury why Martin Memorial should pay for a lifetime of care “for injuries we didn’t even cause?”

A lawyer for Gaspar and Jimenez said the hospital decided to secretly send Jimenez back to Guatemala to halt what would have been a long and expensive appeals process.

"The plan was designed once and for all to stop the meter from running, to stop the expenses ... to stop the case from going all the way up to the Supreme Court — because Luis Jimenez was gone," attorney Jack Hill told the packed courtroom in Stuart, just north of the exclusive community of Palm Beach.

The jury is charged with finding whether the hospital's actions were "unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances," reports the New York Times, and whether the actions had harmed Jimenez.

An Internist POV

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Doc Gurley says most Americans feel they would also be dumped after three years, but "being discharged here in the States is not quite the same as being discharged to a remote Guatemalan mountain village, particularly for someone with serious permanent illness."  A priest visint Jimenez said he appeared clean, living with his mother in a one room home, "and would survive, I guessed, until his first pneumonia".

Doc Gurley says "If you discharge someone without meeting those standards (stabilized patient and a discharge plan) tht's what's called, in this country's jargon, dumping - a practice that's generally considered not only unethical, but one that can also get a hospital's license yanked."

Set Precedent

The case could set precedent in Florida and possibly beyond. A spokeswoman from the South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association says this case may make hospital more reluctant to admit uninsured immigrants.

The priest from South Florida who visited Jimenez, Rev. Frank O’Laughlin said a country that uses cheap labor from other countries should factor in the cost of catastrophic injuries, either coverage coming from employers or ensuring hospital care in case of an accident.

Among the roughly 47 million uninsured in the U.S. an estimated 15 percent are illegal immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.   #


3 Comments

Anonymous User
Posted by JILL PAUL RN
Monday, July 27, 2009 8:22 PM EST

Jane, I don't think that you or I would receive intense hospitalization in Gautemala for free for any length of time - let alone, 3 years. I am so happy that the courts decided in the Hospital's favor. That was the "right" decision.

Posted by Truckie D
Monday, July 27, 2009 10:29 PM EST

I think in many other countries, he would only been stabilized enough for transport, then put on the next plane home -- that is, if they didn't throw him in jail.

Many other countries treat illegal immigrants (and even sometimes legal ones) far more harshly than they do here in the US.

This might well be the beginning of a new trend, and one that is not unreasonable. It's not our responsibility to provide free medical care to whoever shows up in this country. Emergency care? Ok. Beyond that, it's not our responsibility.

When I travel outside the US, I always purchase the appropriate additional insurance coverage. Depending on where you are, medical care abroad can be *really* expensive. Throw in a medical evacuation flight back to the US and you're talking about some pretty big bucks.

I'd like to see such coverage made mandatory, or at least strongly encouraged, for all visitors to this country. For those without, we should bill the countries concerned.

I agree with commenter Jill -- this was the right decision.

The person who should have paid, is the one who caused the whole thing in the first place.

Anonymous User
Posted by JILL PAUL RN
Monday, July 27, 2009 11:10 PM EST

Jane, I totally agree with Truckie D's comments. You have no idea how many people are placed on life support measures for weeks or months because of family's insistence when the patient is not viable and THEY are not paying the bill. If they had to pay 1/10 of the bill, this would not happen. I have seen 92 year olds placed on renal dialysis thrice weekly for the sole purpose of the family receiving their Social Security check. It is my understanding that a week on dialysis (3 treatments) can be $15,000, if not more. In this regard, I do agree with President Obama to limit some health care procedures offered to seniors. Dialysis is one of them since it is an ongoing very costly procedure. Open heart surgery is a one time event. This should not be limited depending on the health of the individual going into it. Every situation is different - you cannot make a blanket statement as they do in England. They do not do that in Canada. I know that for a fact since I am Canadian and have many relatives who have undergone multiple procedures in Canada. I think I can speak from their experience. 3 years to stabilize a patient - I don't think so. How ridiculous is that?

Comments for this article are closed.

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