A hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania is attempting to deport an undocumented patient from the Dominican Republic after performing a life-saving surgery to treat her aneurysm. Two months after the procedure, the hospital is no longer electing to give the woman ongoing medical care.

A hospital in Allentown wants to deport Dominican patient

In addition to actively trying to deport a recovering patient, many are criticizing the hospital’s medical staff because of complications during the surgery for which they are responsible. According to her husband, who is remaining anonymous, the surgery should be “a simple procedure.”

Loading the player...

Instead, the hospital gave him three options:

  • Pay for $500 per-day equipment to take care of his wife in their home
  • Find another U.S. hospital that would admit her
  • Consent to her deportation to the Dominican Republic

The hospital then gave the patient’s husband just 48 hours to make a decision. By March 2, the hospital gave him another week to decide. However, “If they put her on a plane, my wife is going to die,” he said to Prism. “They haven’t even put back the piece of skull they removed from her to relieve the swelling in her brain.”

“My wife has a huge hole in her head, and on the side where the piece of skull is missing, something seems to be coming out,” he added. Protestors started congregating outside of the hospital on March 1 to fight the hospital’s decision to force the patient’s husband to make a decision.

Sadly, this story is breaking just days after Allentown’s Dominican Heritage Day.

Gray areas

A professor at UC Santa Barbara named Lisa Sun-Hee Park wrote a paper last year on medical deportations. She said, “Only the federal government has the authority to forcibly remove an individual to another country.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of gray areas here because hospitals are pretty adamant in saying that these are not deportations,” she added. However, the hospitals have something in their favor: most undocumented patients don’t know their rights. People only hear about them when patients and next-of-kin refuse to agree.

Medical deportations occur without any collaboration with ICE or CBP. Park says medical deportations are far more common than people know.

“I tried to look up every single case that has been talked about in the media or legal documents, and my best guess, conservatively, is that it is in the hundreds every year, but if I were more realistic, I would say it must be in the thousands,” she explained.

There is a financial incentive to deport patients like this Dominican woman

Additionally, hospitals have a financial incentive to deport undocumented patients. The healthcare network to which Lehigh Valley Hospital belongs increased its revenue by 11% between 2021 and 2022.

An Allentown-based company called MedEscort International states that they were responsible for transferring more than 6,000 patients to 100 different countries. They offer services to “hospital CEO[s] or CFO[s] looking to solve the problem of unfunded foreign patients.”

David Bennion, the executive director of the Free Migration Project, makes the case for avoiding a malpractice suit.

“I would not rule out medical malpractice. In other cases we’ve worked on, the family and the health advocates always had concerns whether the patient was receiving appropriate care,” he said. “Hospitals do all kinds of things to cover up that information, like not providing copies of the medical files.”

Bennion says that, as of now, hospitals have mostly avoided consequences for this illegal practice.

“As far as we are aware, no U.S. court has ever held a hospital or a transport company accountable for a medical deportation, even if it resulted in death or serious injury,” he added. “There is no enforcement mechanism for this. So, effectively, it does not matter if these companies are breaking the law.”