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Should Hospitals Have to Offer Long Term Care to Indigent Non-documented Immigrants?


In a benchmark case dealing with the obligations of hospitals toward uninsured illegal immigrants, aFlorida jury found thatMartinMemorialMedicalCenter did not act unreasonably when it chartered a plane and repatriated a severely brain-injured Guatemalan patient against the will of his guardian.

Luis Jimenez, now 37, immigrated to theUnited States fromGuatemala in order to support his family. But in 2000, a drunk driver crashed into a van he was riding in and left him a paraplegic.MartinMemorialMedicalCenter treated Jimenez for three years. For more than a year he lingered in a vegetative state. Now he has the mental capacity of small child. Over three years, Marin Memorial spent 1.5 million in Jimenez’s care.

In July 2003, Martin Memorial Medical Center chartered a private plane and sent Jimenez back to Guatemala without telling his relatives in the U.S. or Guatemala. Martin Memorial contends Jimenez wanted to go home and a state judge approved of sending Jimenez to Guatemala.

Montejo Gaspar, Jimenez’s cousin and legal guardian has sued the hospital for repatriating Jimenez. Lawsuit seeks nearly $1 million to cover the estimated lifetime costs of his care in Guatemala, as well as damages for the hospital’s alleged “false imprisonment” of his cousin.

The underlying question was what should a hospital do with a patient who requires long-term care, is unable to pay and doesn’t qualify for federal or state aid because of his immigration status. This appears to be the first time a lawsuit has been filed in such a case.

Just before jury deliberations, Senior Judge James Midelis told jurors that the only decision to be made was whether the hospital’s action were “unreasonable and unwarranted” under the circumstances. It has already been determined that Jimenez was “unlawfully detained and deprived of liberty” by the hospital and that the hospital had acted against the will of his legal guardian.

The all- White jury declined to comment on their verdict that the hospital did not act unreasonably in repatriating Jimenez to Guatemala.

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