A Florida appeals court has overturned a decision that allowed a hospital to return a brain-damaged illegal immigrant to his native Guatemala after he racked up more than $2 million in medical bills.
The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday that Martin Memorial Medical Center in Stuart, Fla., could not release Luis Alberto Jimenez, 31, from the hospital without proof he would get the care he needed in the Central American country.
Justice Larry Klein cited expert testimony that said there were no public healthcare facilities providing traumatic brain injury rehabilitation in Guatemala.
"There was no competent substantial evidence to support Jimenez's discharge from the hospital," Klein wrote.
Jimenez was severely injured in a February 2000 car crash caused by a drunk driver and was hospitalized at Martin Memorial for three and a half years.
Federal guidelines require healthcare facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid payments to discharge patients only to a facility that will provide the next level of appropriate care.
Because of Jimenez's illegal status, federal health care programs do not cover his long-term care.
A Florida judge allowed the hospital to return Jimenez after the Guatemalan Minister of Health assured him the patient would receive appropriate treatment and therapy at no charge in that country.
Jimenez was soon airlifted to Guatemala. He was hospitalized briefly but is now living with his mother in a poor town.
Hospital officials declined to comment and said they are deciding whether to appeal.