Maria Gamez whimpered quietly and admitted feeling “a small pain” two hours into hard labor at Parkland Memorial Hospital. But she did not want a spinal infusion of painkiller, called an epidural, to make her discomfort disappear.
“Hispanic women are just wonderful; they birth wonderfully,” Tori Agustsdottir, the nurse-midwife, confided as she stepped out of the room. “The perception of pain is very cultural. These women don’t want epidurals. But American women are quick to take the medication.”
Ms. Gamez is typical of Parkland’s current generation of maternity patients. She is Hispanic and an immigrant and had nowhere else to go when she became pregnant last year.
Since Parkland opened in 1895, it has served Dallas’ indigent population, which often includes uninsured minority and immigrant residents.
A recent patient survey indicated that 70 percent of the women who gave birth at Parkland in the first three months of 2006 were illegal immigrants, hospital officials said.
These Hispanic women had been having their babies at Parkland without much attention until the recent debate over illegal immigration. Critics have questioned the ease with which illegal immigrants are delivering their babies at U.S. hospitals—at taxpayers’ expense.
The Faces of Parkland
Parkland “is supposed to be taking care of those people who are citizens of the United States and who are living there legally,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, who toured the Dallas hospital recently and noted the high percentage of “first-generation Americans” among its newborns.
At Parkland, birthing babies has become a moneymaking venture.
In 2004, the hospital spent $70.7 million delivering 15,938 babies but ended the year with a $7.9 million surplus in obstetrics.
The positive bottom line resulted from a hefty infusion of Medicaid funds, about $34.5 million, to cover the delivery costs for the undocumented women. Dallas County taxpayers also kicked in $31.3 million, or about 40 percent of the total obstetrics costs, and the federal government paid an additional $9.5 million to make up for the hospital’s high percentage of patients on Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for the poor.