An immigrant who suffered a stroke in a New Jersey hospital has woken up from a coma in Poland after being carted ‘like a sack of potatoes’ to his homeland while unconscious.
Wladyslaw Haniszewski is receiving treatment at a hospital in the town of Boleslawiec, despite having lived in the U.S. for the past 30 years.
Polish officials are furious after Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick deported the 69-year-old, who had been living in America illegally, because he had no medical insurance.
Meanwhile, the Boleslawiec hospital claims Mr Haniszewski also lacks health insurance in Poland and his care is costing the medical facility ‘a few hundred dollars’ a day. Its director said the patient was ‘dumped on the doorstep’ before they had even agreed to the transfer.
Polish Consul General, Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, said she and other diplomats were trying to help Mr Haniszewski, after the hospital suddenly shipped him overseas without informing his friends or family.
They learned only last week that he was gone, Ms Junczyk-Ziomecka told the New York Daily News.
‘Imagine being carted around like a sack of potatoes,’ she said.
Mr Haniszewski is awake but unable to speak with doctors, the consul said. ‘He can smile from time to time, but he is unable to communicate,’ she added.
The 69-year-old suffers from a blood disease and lived for many years in Perth Amboy, near Staten Island in New Jersey.
He had lost his job in recent years, which, in turn, saw him lose his apartment. When he became sick, he was living in a local shelter, according to his friend, Jerzy Jedra.
‘This is a very good man who I saw on a daily basis for some 12 years,’ Mr Jedra told the Daily News.
Mr Jedra took Mr Haniszewski to the New Brunswick hospital earlier this month and it was while he was in hospital that he suffered the stroke.
U.S. hospitals are legally bound to give emergency care to all, but can ship ‘undocumented patients’ back to their homeland through a process called ‘medical repatriation.’
In order to do so the patient must be ‘stabilized,’ which is not the equivalent of ‘stable condition.’ In many cases, the patient has an ongoing critical illness. The hospital must also get consent either from the patient, family or a court guardian.
In Mr Haniszewski’s case—first reported in the Polish-language paper Nowy Dziennik—consular officials say this did not happen.
‘It’s an incredibly disturbing case,’ Lori Nessel, director of the Centre for Social Justice at Seton Hall University School of Law told the Daily News.
‘This kind of action seems clearly illegal and also not ethical, but it’s hard to bring a legal action.’
A spokesman for the hospital said it had followed proper procedures—but refused to discuss the specific details of the case.
‘The individual was informed regarding his discharge plan and care. As the hospital’s understanding of the facts differs from the published reports, we are conducting a thorough review of the procedures and communications surrounding this gentleman’s care,’ said the spokesman.
He said the hospital only repatriates patients if they are satisfied a health care provider in the patient’s home country will provide treatment.
U.S. Immigration and Customs plays no role in medical repatriations, which are paid for by hospitals themselves as way of ridding themselves patients that need costly, long term care.
The Centre for Social Justice says U.S. hospitals from at least 15 States have sent or attempted to send more than 800 immigrants back home since 2006.
Hospitals generally use private planes and ambulances to carry the sick who are often too ill to object. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital reportedly transported Mr Haniszewski to Boleslawiec using a specially hired Air Escort Medical Flight and ambulance, after tracing his last known address to the town.
Air Escort said such a flight could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 depending on the number of personel and the type of equipment needed.
The Boleslawiec hospital has confirmed the 69-year-old was not in a fit state to sign off on the transfer.
Its deputy director, Nikolaj Lambrinow, told a local TV station that the U.S. hospital had contacted him regarding the transfer but before he agreed Mr Haniszewski was dumped on their doorstep.
‘His status in Poland is the same as in the United States. He is a Polish citizen without an address, without certification, pension and insurance,’ Lambrinow told TVN.
He said that his care at the hospital is costing a few hundred dollars a day.
Officials are trying to find out from the New Brunswick hospital the legal basis for sending the patient back to Poland.
‘Behind our backs they transported the unconscious man to Poland,’ Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka told TVN.
‘I cannot imagine such a situation that the decision about transporting an unconscious person could be made without agreement. Between the two institutions must be a contract, there must be documents. You cannot simply leave a patient at the door and drive away,’ she said.
In another example of medical repatriation, the Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital last year obtained legal permission to deport Chicago resident Barbara Latasiewicz to Poland after she suffered a stroke in 2009 that left her paralysed.
The cleaner had originally come to the US in 1990 but stayed on after her original visa expired. She became paralysed as a result of the stroke and required 24-hour care.
The hospital asked around 30 other U.S. medical facilities to take her in, but their request was denied each time.
The hospital continued to treat her for two years despite her lack of medical insurance at a cost of $1million (£650,000).
Eventually the hospital applied to the courts to force her to return to Poland, a country she had not seen for 22 years, leaving her son and grandchildren in the U.S..
‘It’s hard to document how often it happens because it happens in the shadows,’ said Shena Elrington, director of the Health Justice Program told the Daily News.
‘We have been doing some outreach to consulates and are hearing that it happens with increasing frequency.’
Advocates fear repatriations will become more common from 2014, when the US government, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, begins to reduce payments to hospitals that care for a disproportionate number of the uninsured.