In Atlanta, A Dozen Immigrant Dialysis Patients Told To Wait Until They’re Sick Enough To Go To The ER To Get Care

Budget cuts at Grady Memorial Hospital have endangered the lives of those who used to rely on it for care.

The New York Times reports today on a tragic story that illustrates the hurdles undocumented immigrants face trying to receive basic health care, as well as the inadequacies of an American health care system that forces many of our sickest residents to go to the emergency room as a last resort.

At a health care clinic in Atlanta, a dozen immigrants suffering from renal failure and in need of dialysis treatments were refused care yesterday. The clinic, operated by Fresenius Medical Care, turned the immigrants away and told them to go to the emergency room when they became sick enough that federal law requires them to be treated.

Twenty-two dialysis patients, many of them undocumented immigrants, find themselves in this life-threatening situation after the major public hospital in the region, Grady Memorial, was forced to shut down its outpatient dialysis clinic and outsource patients to private clinics operated by Fresenius. One of the immigrants interviewed by the Times, Bineet Kaur, explained that he feels like he is “dying” while waiting to be sick enough to go to the emergency room:

Rather than receiving dialysis three times a week, as is standard protocol for cleansing their blood of toxins, they must wait until they are in sufficiently serious jeopardy to trigger the federal law that requires hospital care.

Dialysis patients said that [waiting for the emergency room] typically means placing themselves at risk of serious impairment or death. “Trust me, it is just like dying,” said Bineet Kaur, 28, an illegal immigrant from India who was turned away on Thursday morning from the clinic, operated by Fresenius Medical Care. “You are almost unconscious, you know. Even if you are talking, your brain is not working. Sometimes you have to be hospitalized for days or weeks.”

“These patients are left in a very dangerous situation,” Dorothy Leone-Glasser, president of the nonprofit Advocates for Responsible Care, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re asking them to decide, ‘When do you think you’re critical enough to go to the ER?'”

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for Medicaid, and anti-immigrant lawmakers have made it even harder for them to have access to insurance. An effort to add legal immigrant children to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program was blocked in the Senate in 2007, and lawmakers added language to ensure that illegal immigrants were excluded. As a result, immigrants are much more likely than other families to be uninsured, which drives up health care costs when they are ultimately forced to show up in emergency rooms to get care.