Oregon Hospital Denies Liver Transplant Because Patient Is An Undocumented Immigrant

The married mother of two reportedly has health insurance through her husband’s employer; public outcry has reportedly caused the hospital to change its ‘archaic’ policy.

Pamela AuShutterstock

According to a Fox News report, an Oregon hospital denied 46-year-old wife and mother of four Silvia Lesama-Santos a liver transplant earlier this week based on her immigration status. Lesama-Santos is reportedly an undocumented immigrant who has lived in Oregon for over 30 years, and is currently in critical condition. Despite her declining physical health, the ACLU claims that her lack of U.S. citizenship resulted in the Oregon hospital denying the patient a potentially life-saving liver transplant on Monday.

The issue was brought to the attention of the media and general public via a press release issued by the ACLU of Oregon. The civil rights protection organization also released the letter that Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) in Portland reportedly sent to Lesama-Santos advising her of the denial of care. In the letter, it was expressly stated that the hospital had denied the liver transplant because of the patient’s lack of “lawful presence or immigration documentation” in the United states.

Citing established hospital policy which “requires proof” of immigration or status, the hospital further advised the ailing immigrant mother that despite being insured via her husband’s employer, she would have to provide proof of valid citizenship/immigration status in order to receive the liver transplant she needs to survive.

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Despite her critical condition, the Oregon hospital advised Lesama-Santos that she was welcome to begin the process for requesting a donor liver at some point in the future when her immigration status meets “the above requirements.” After learning of her case, the Oregon ACLU quickly took up her cause, propelling the case into a viral story on social media and bombarding the hospital with demands to change its mind using the hashtag #SaveSilvia.

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Before the Oregon ACLU could take further action to save Lesama-Santos’ life and secure for her the potentially life-saving liver transplant she needs, OHSU stepped up to the plate and immediately terminated the long-standing policy standing between their patient and her liver transplant. In a press release calling the guidelines that banned undocumented immigrants from receiving organ transplants “archaic,” OHSU announced that the hospital had terminated the policy.

According to the Oregon hospital, “all are welcome at OHSU,” and a policy that demanded refusal of treatment to undocumented immigrants did not reflect the “values” of the institution. The hospital also publicly and privately apologized to the family of Silvia Lesama-Santos and vowed to audit all existing policies to ensure that such a situation does not occur to another patient in the future.

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“It was brought to our attention this evening that an archaic transplant policy was preventing an undocumented individual from being evaluated at OHSU. Upon learning of the policy, OHSU leaders acted immediately and terminated the policy. We deeply regret the pain this has caused the family.”

After achieving success in the case of Lesama-Santos’ liver transplant refusal, the ACLU of Oregon is now circulating a petition that would prevent all hospitals in the state from denying transplants to patients based on their immigration status.

Lesama-Santos will now be starting the transplant process that will allow her to receive a potentially life-saving donor liver, both her oldest child and the ACLU of Oregon have confirmed. She remains in critical condition at OHSU at this time.