Hospital That Deported Patient Vindicated, but will Ruling Counteract Bad PR?

HealthLeaders Media Staff, July 29, 2009

A not-for-profit community hospital in Florida that suffered some bad PR last year when it chartered a plane to send an uninsured illegal immigrant back to his home country has been vindicated by a jury verdict, although the hospital might not be in the clear when it comes to the court of public opinion.

As I wrote in a column last year, The ROI of Avoiding Bad PR, Martin Memorial, a not-for-profit hospital in Stuart, FL, saved the life of Luis Alberto Jiménez, who was injured in a car accident that left him unable to care for himself. When Martin could not find a long-term care facility willing to take the Guatemalan man in, the hospital continued to care for him for three years, to the tune of $1.5 million, before it leased an air ambulance for $30,000 and returned him to his home country.

In return, they were accused of false imprisonment and sued for nearly $1 million to cover the estimated lifetime cost of his care.

The incident was highlighted in an extensive New York Times article, "Getting Tough: Immigrants Facing Deportation by U.S. Hospitals" on August 3, 2008. The article reported the story in a way that made it difficult to sympathize with the hospital, showing heart-wrenching photographs of the man and describing his life of poverty in the remote hills of Guatemala with only his elderly mother to care for him. And the paper re-republished the bleak photos in its follow-up story on the court ruling.

Although a jury ruled the hospital did not act unreasonably, the stigma of this story is not likely to fade anytime soon. Consider the fact that the original Times article had more than 600 comments on it.

The update? Zero.

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