Posted on August 24, 2005

Nursing Home Wrestles With $40,000 Tab for Well-Liked Immigrant with Dementia

John MacCormack, San Antonio Express-News, August 23, 2005

In moments of lucidity, Santiago “Jimmy” Gallegos, 59, talks about his mother, Trinidad, his two daughters, Amy and Crystal, and his birthplace of Delicias, Mexico.

He also reveals a wicked sense of humor, referring to his home at the Cedar Hills Geriatric Center as “the cuckoo’s nest.”

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Popularity doesn’t pay the bills, however. Gallegos suffers from serious liver and kidney problems, as well as dementia, all likely induced by alcoholism. Since arriving in November, he has run up about $40,000 in unpaid bills, including $17,000 from a pharmacy.

The nursing home expenses are the chief reason the city has filed for bankruptcy after being sued for falling $1.15 million behind in debt payments. Tax revenues don’t cover costs and Scotch’s rent is less than half the city’s monthly bond bill of $30,000.

Scotch said that during the past eight months she has sought help for him from about a dozen agencies and elected officials.

“In January, we found out his Medicaid numbers were no good. It took us until February for Social Security to tell us he was an illegal immigrant and had been deported three times. They told us unless he was a naturalized citizen, we wouldn’t get paid,” she said.

They recommended Scotch call the Homeland Security Department to figure out his immigration status, she said.

“I called them. I couldn’t get an answer. The question was put to me: Is he a threat to national security? I said no. She said, ‘I can’t help you and I can’t tell you where to go,’“ Scotch recalled.

She has also called, among others, the U.S. Border Patrol, the Mexican consulates in Laredo and Eagle Pass, the staff of various elected officials, Real County Indigent Services and two state agencies, the Department of Aging and Disability Services and Adult Protective Services.

Calls by a reporter to the different welfare agencies confirm that Gallegos apparently falls through all the bureaucratic cracks: No agency provides long-term funding for an undocumented immigrant living at a nursing home.

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