A Hospital In Mexico Was Keeping A Couple From Leaving Until They Paid Their Bill In Full And Tyler Perry Helped Them Out
Imagine: you and your boo are on your dream vacation, kicking back and sipping chelas on a Mexican cruise. Suddenly, one of you gets sick—like, really sick, and you’re rushed to a hospital in Mexico in critical condition. It sounds like a nightmare, right? Well, this happened to an American couple about a week ago. When they were faced with a $14,000 medical bill, film mogul Tyler Perry took immediate action to help them out.
Tori Austin’s fiancé, Stephen Johnson, suffered a sudden medical emergency while on a Carnival Dream cruise ship. He was diagnosed on board with diabetes, pancreatitis, and a kidney infection that required urgent dialysis. He was rushed to Centro Médico Americano, a private Mexican hospital in the city of Progreso.
A health administrator told NBC News that Johnson was “near death” when he finally made it to the medical center on November 14.
“He suffered kidney failure and is currently undergoing dialysis,” the administrator said. Johnson received three days of intensive care, which included an endoscopy and dialysis. After everything was said and done, the hospital bill totaled $14,000 and the hospital, Centro Médico Americano, prevented the couple from leaving until the bill was paid in full. Austin even claimed that hospital staffers locked the windows to ensure that they could not leave, and threatened to call the police if the couple tried to take off.
Whether or not those steps were actually taken by hospital staff, preventing patients from leaving before paying their bills in full is not unusual for private hospitals in Mexico. Many of these hospitals require patients, especially international patients, to pay their fees upfront, because they don’t have an effective way of billing patients after they have been discharged. If they don’t have travel insurance, Centro Médico Americano does try to help patients find a way to pay through credit cards or money transfers, but what if you just don’t have the means to cover the cost?
Well, you hope that Tyler Perry gets word of your situation.
After seeing a news report on the couple’s dilemma, Tyler Perry contacted Austin and sent a payment to cover the bill, which by that time amounted to more than $16,000.
Perry also offered to pay the couple’s travel expenses back to Atlanta once they were permitted to leave the hospital. According to NBC News, Centro Médico Americano said on Saturday that they had not yet received Perry’s payment. However, the hospital did note that international transfers typically take several days to process, and conceded that the couple would be free to go on Monday if Johnson was healthy enough to travel. In the meantime, Austin expressed her gratitude for Perry’s support.
“Today I am thankful for and will always be thankful for Tyler Perry,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. She also shared positive feelings about Carnival Dream, affirming that the company “has been great” and that she will continue to “only cruise with them.” Additionally, in spite of this chaotic experience, Austin wrote that she would definitely continue to travel to Mexico in the future.
“What is going on with Stephen has nothing to do with the entire country, it has to do with this particular hospital,” she wrote. “We were unaware that this particular hospital and administration staff have been known to take American passports and hold them for payment.”
“I love MEXICO and the Culture,” she added. “I’ll be back again but will leave on my own terms. We have no ill feelings for the country or the people, just this hospital.”
The website of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico informs U.S. citizens that unexpected hospitalizations in Mexico can be “a difficult experience.” They recommend that if a traveler ends up in a Mexican hospital, they should “obtain the estimated cost of proposed treatments, request an itemized bill every day, and, if uncomfortable with costs, change hospitals if medically possible.” The Embassy states that hospital quality in Mexico varies, and there are different types of hospitals with a range of protocols.
The Embassy also confirms that the couple’s experience is not unique, warning that “while most U.S. citizens have acceptable hospitalization experiences in Mexico, some have reported hospitals failing to provide an itemized list of charges, withholding U.S. passports, and delaying medical evacuations.” The Embassy reiterates that “the U.S. government does not pay for medical care overseas,” but some private insurance companies do. So, if you have insurance, make sure to check with your insurance company before leaving the country, to know what services are covered in case of an emergency.
If you don’t have insurance, don’t let that hold you back from setting out to see the world — just do your best to stay safe, and cross your fingers that a good Samaritan steps in if something unexpected happens.