Undocumented Immigrants Impact Local ERs

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As the county's only indigent hospital St. Joseph provides health care to everyone, regardless the patient's ability to pay or residential status.

St. Joseph spokesman Tim Ottinger says last year, the Bryan hospital started tracking the number of undocumented immigrants who were admitted to the hospital through the emergency room. In only three months, that number hit 39.

"We would have billed those 39 patients about $450,000 in billed services," said Tim Ottinger, St. Joseph Regional Health System.

The hospital started keeping records on undocumented immigrants because a portion of the money the hospital loses will be refunded. Those refunds come directly out of the pockets of taxpayers and top it off, the hospital still loses money.

"We get paid back a small portion of it, but the portion we get paid back does not even really cover our costs," said Ottinger.

Ottinger says they don't have numbers on how many undocumented workers came to the emergency room and did not stay overnight.

"There's no telling how many came in and got services in the emergency room and were well enough to go home. Those numbers don't get broken out and tracked," he said.

Mike Flores with LULAC says providing care for undocumented immigrants is just part of the problem and immigrants shouldn't be blamed for all the issues facing healthcare.

"A facility like the hospital will always have to provide some kind of help to the indigent. Unfortunately those 39 people they are talking about are undocumented workers," said Mike Flores, LULAC.

Ottinger agrees this is just one piece of the puzzle.

"There are lots and lots of people that are citizens and have been for years and years that can't afford or don't have insurance that are in the same boat," said Ottinger.

But with the debate on immigration reform reaching a fever pitch, the problem of subsidized health care for illegals is only adding more fuel to the fire.