Doctor’s Orders: Send Undocumented Patient to Mexico

Maria Sanchez has a banana-sized tumor in her back. But that didn't stop a Texas hospital from giving her the boot because of her legal status.

By Jamilah King Feb 09, 2011

Maria Sanchez is a 24-year-old undocumented woman who’s battling a banana-size tumor along her spine that’s crept between her vertebrae. The growth has left her unable to use her right hand and, if left untreated, could grow so large that doctors think she wouldn’t be able to breathe without having a tube inserted into her chest. But less than a week after being admitted to a Texas hospital to remove the tumor, Sanchez was discharged and reportedly told by doctors to go have surgery in Mexico.

Sanchez was admitted to a Galveston hospital on Jan. 5 and soon transferred to University of Texas Medical Branch’s John Sealy Hospital. She stayed six days before she says a Spanish-speaking doctor told her to leave the hospital immediately because she was undocumented.

"They treated us like animals, like dogs or something," Sanchez’s husband Luis Aguillon told the Houston Chronicle. "I even asked the social worker, where I can go, because a social worker is supposed to help people," Aguillon recalled. "She said nowhere."

Sanchez’s records show that she was dismissed without warning on Jan. 12 because she was an "undocumented pt (patient) with no insurance." The Chronicle reports that it was Sanchez’s inability to pay, not her legal status, that led the hospital to send her out in the streets:

No law either prohibits or requires hospitals to accept illegal immigrants as patients outside the emergency room, experts said. In cases where a patient’s immigration status is an issue, it’s generally in the context of the patient’s inability to pay, they said.

…State law requires hospitals to have a charity policy prominently posted in waiting rooms, but [Dr. Merle] Lenihan says UTMB’s policy is so vague that there is no way to know how decisions to deny charity care are being made. She said it was especially troubling that the public has no way to know how a taxpayer-funded institution decides how it uses tax money designated for charity care.

But Auillon says that the hospital only mentioned his wife’s legal status as reason for her dismissal. After taking his wife to five hospitals and three clinics to try to get treatment, Aguillon eventually moved her 50 miles north to a hospital in Houston, where they qualify for care.