A Guatemalan undocumented immigrant who is identified as A.V. was on the verge of “medical repatriation” by Jefferson Torresdale Hospital to a country that is less able to help him. The repatriation has been averted, and A.V. has been moved to a long-term care facility in the Philadelphia region.
What’s the Story?
After being hit by a motorcycle, the 48-year-old A.V. suffered a traumatic brain injury. Though A.V. is far from being beyond the need for medical care, his family remains hopeful due to their confidence in the American medical system. He was taken to Jefferson Torresdale in May, having suffered broken legs, fractured ribs, and severe neurological trauma. It was on June 23 that the medical students brought the repatriation issue to light by organizing an online petition to stop A.V.’s removal. By the next day, immigration activists were gathered at the hospital to try to stop any physical attempt to remove A.V. from the hospital to the airport.
After repeated broadcasts of this news in the media, and after the arrival of City Councilwoman Helen Gym, finally, it was announced that A.V. will not be repatriated. A statement issued by the Jefferson Torresdale Hospital did not deny plans for A.V.’s private deportation. The hospital said that all transfers are the result of planning among hospital staff, patients, and families.
What is Medical Repatriation?
It is “the transfer of undocumented patients in need of chronic care to their country of origin.” Once the immigrant in need of medical attention is stabilized, a decision is made by insurance companies, doctors, hospital financial offices, and administrators to repatriate the immigrant. This is often done while the patient and his family members remain oblivious to the upcoming repatriation.
In the United States, hospitals have a legal mandate to provide emergency care regardless of the patient’s immigration status. The reimbursement the hospital receives for such treatment is very minimal. The Federal Medicare programs reimburse the hospital at minimal emergency care treatment rates, leaving aside the myriad other services whose costs are not covered by anyone.
Health care facilities have long since “medically repatriated” patients. The immigrant patient is sent to the home country in a privately chartered plane. As can be anticipated, medical repatriations place at risk both the patients and the hospitals. Most of the time, the countries to which immigrants have repatriated lack adequate medical facilities. For undocumented immigrants, repatriation leads to deportation. For the hospitals, this can open the door to years of litigation, including federal Section 1983 claims against private and public facilities. Potential claims that the hospital can anticipate regarding medical repatriations are due process violation issues, civil false imprisonment allegations, and breach of the Federal Discharge requirement.
The practice of repatriation is a human rights violation. This includes violation of the right to a fair trial and due process; the right to life, liberty, and personal security; the right to protection of the family; and the right to preservation of health and well-being. Thus, repatriation is a serious violation of international and U.S. laws.
While the United States is dealing with the pandemic along with the rest of the world, the number of uninsured immigrants seeking medical treatment is on the rise. If medical repatriation is dealt with great care and scrutiny, facilities can be more successful with medical repatriation.