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New Jersey hospital deports unconscious stroke victim

Published time: June 26, 2013 18:57
Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP

Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP

A US hospital deported an unconscious stroke victim after noticing that the patient was an undocumented immigrant from Poland. Polish health officials are furious that the man was “dumped on their doorstep” before the transfer was approved.

“Imagine being carted around like a sack of potatoes,” Polish Consul General Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka told New York Daily News, describing the incident in which 69-year old Wladyslaw Haniszewski was unconsciously deported to his homeland.

Haniszewski, who suffers from a blood disease, lived in Perth Amboy, N.J., for 30 years. He recently lost his job, apartment, and health insurance, and was forced to move into a homeless shelter, the Daily News reports.

After the man suffered a dangerous stroke, a friend named Jerzy Jedra took him to the New Jersey hospital for treatment. When officials at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital noticed that the patient had no health insurance and lived in the US without documentation, they sent the comatose man to Poland. US hospitals are legally required to provide emergency care to anyone who needs it, but are allowed to deport stabilized undocumented immigrants.

But in order to deport someone, a US hospital must first get consent from either the patient, a family member, or a court guardian. Officials at the Polish consulate claim that no one was contacted, and that Haniszewski’s family was never informed that the man was deported.

Meanwhile, Haniszewski was left at the doorstep of a hospital in Boleslawiec, Poland. The facility is now being forced to take care of the man’s medical payments, which have cost “a few hundred dollars” a day, the hospital’s deputy director told TVN.

Junczyk-Ziomecka, who works at the Polish consulate in New York City, said she was trying to help the comatose man, only to realize last week that he was gone. Polish officials are furious about the deportation, especially since the 69-year-old patient was not in a healthy state to sign off on the transfer.

“Behind our backs they transported the unconscious man to Poland,” she told TVN, noting that she was most furious about the hospital’s decision to dump the man at the facility. “I cannot imagine such a situation that the decision about transporting an unconscious person could be made without agreement. Between the two institutions must be a contract, there must be documents. You cannot simply leave a patient at the door and drive away.”

At least 800 people have been deported from US hospitals without consent over the past six years in 15 states, the Associated Press reported in April. Medical repatriation has become increasingly common, but AP suggests that the actual number of such hospital deportations is much higher than figures show. Some health advocates are afraid that repatriations will occur more frequently after major components of Obamacare are implemented in 2014, since the US government will reduce its payments to hospitals that care for large numbers of uninsured patients.

Shena Erlington, director of the Health Justice Program, told the Daily News that although hospitals may face the burden of paying for uninsured patients, medical care providers should not have the ability to deport patients. 

“It’s an incredibly disturbing case,” Lori Nessel, director of the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall University School of Law, said about the Haniszewski repatriation. “This kind of action seems clearly illegal and also not ethical, but it’s hard to bring forth a legal action.”

The New Jersey hospital denies any wrongdoing and claims that the patient was informed of his discharge and care plan. The patient is awake, but unable to speak or communicate with doctors.