The NY Times recently wrote of the problem of "permanent patients" plaguing the coffers of hospitals across the nation, thereby draining resources for other, more needy patients -- a pressing concern as hospitals are now looking to cut costs anywhere they can.
Permanent patients are those who are not turned away because they lack insurance, housing, and/or identification, and discharge requires this kind of information. Patients must be treated at least "until they can be discharged safely," according to an assistant vice president of patient services at New York Downtown.
Most permanent patients are illegal aliens, but others include a more colorful demographic: "pop drops," or elderly parents, are dropped off by their children so the children may go on vacation. Some patients stick around for months or years, even if they are well enough for discharge to a nursing home (or elsewhere), which would require identification. Those who remain past their time often remain longer than five years, according to a senior VP of the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation. One wheelchair-bound patient was highlighted to have spent 13 years in a Queens facility.
300 patients are estimated to be permanently stuck in NYC area hospitals. Most of this occurs in public hospitals, though it is sometimes found in private clinics. Although Medicaid usually pays for emergency care for illegal immigrants, it is not set up for continuing care. Hospitals end up spending millions annually on this practice: just one patient incurs over $100,000 of cost per year.
Meanwhile, hospitals are reluctant to complain openly about this for fear of obtaining reputations of callousness.
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