Health Law

Chartering Plane to Take Patient Home Could Cost Hospital Big Bucks

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During the three years he lived at a Florida hospital after suffering a severe brain injury in an automobile accident, Luis Jimenez racked up a $1.5 million medical bill.

But now the uninsured illegal immigrant could potentially cost Martin Memorial Medical Center a lot more. In closing arguments today in a state-court false imprisonment case, his counsel sought a jury verdict “well into the six figures” for his alleged false imprisonment and the lifetime costs of his care, according to the TC Palm.

Although the hospital obtained a court order before chartering a plane to take Jimenez home to Guatemala in 2003, it did so without notifying his relatives and against the objections of his legal guardian, reports the Associated Press. He is now cared for by his 73-year-old mother in her one-room home.

The hospital contends it followed Jimenez’ wishes in sending him home. His counsel says the medical center paid for the $30,000 chartered flight to stop the meter on his medical care costs and circumvent what would otherwise have been a lengthy appellate process, the AP recounts.

Also at issue in the case is whether a hospital and state court should have, in essence, the power to deport an immigrant, which ordinarily is exercised by the federal government.

The case is being watched throughout the country by those with an interest in health law, the news agency reports, and “regardless of the decision, it will heighten the awareness of hospitals nationwide,” says Steve Larson of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine.

“The next time they debate shipping a patient overseas, they’re going to have to do their homework,” he says, “because it’s going to leave them open to a lot of legal challenges and questions.”

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