YUMA, Ariz. — GOP members on the House Judiciary Committee met with the leadership of the Yuma Regional Medical Center on Thursday to hear how medical services have been impacted over the significant influx of illegal immigrants into the region.
Dr. Robert Trenschel, president and CEO of the medical center, told the delegation that his hospital has around $26 million in unpaid bills for services rendered to illegal immigrants. Trenschel said the priority of who gets seen depends on how severe their illness or injuries are, no matter what their legal status is. This has caused medical services to be prioritized towards the illegal immigrants, as their illnesses and injuries are significant following their journey across the border.
Yuma's population is just under 100,000, with several nearby towns adding roughly 38,000 people. The medical center was built up to accommodate that population size. Since the surge of illegal immigration that started in their area in December of 2021, over 300,000 people have illegally crossed into the region.
"We have to see them. Any one of those that needs a hospital visit and we've done that. We do it with pride...But what we need is a payer source for those individuals because we have nobody to bill. They have no resources and they've just continue to come in," Trenschel explained.
"We've had people in our ICUs for over 60 days...They've needed dialysis, heart surgery, cardiac catheterization, I mean, they're sick when they come over. Not all of them but many and some come in with minor bumps and bruises, things like that...and we have no payer source for that care and that's our biggest issue. For a hospital like us, it prevents us from doing other things we normally do for our community," he continued.
Though it is not on the brink of collapse, Trenschel said the hospital system losing out on $26 million in a such a short amount of time has made a severe impact on its operations.
"Really, the community is the one that suffers," he added.
One of the biggest examples of their services being strained is the hospital's maternity ward having to care for the mothers and newborn babies for much longer than U.S. citizens because the staff has to ensure they are healthy enough to be discharged since most of the time it was unknown when the next time they would see a doctor.
Trenschel said the hospital has had to postpone planned inductions for mothers who were U.S. citizens "and we had to say, 'Sorry, we're just full in our maternity unit.'"
Dorie Rush, the director of women and children services, told GOP lawmakers that the hospital staff has plenty of Spanish speakers. But, many of the illegal immigrants coming in for treatment do not speak Spanish, as they came from other countries, like Haiti. Due to this, the hospital system has purchased multiple translation tablets in order to communicate with the patients.
"We had our walls lined with Border Patrol and Customs agents because when they first were bringing the patients in, they would stay with the patients...There was one day when we had five agents from five different locations bring five different patients at the same time into our triage area, and it's only seven beds," Rush recalled.
"So as you can imagine, our general population of patients that were here sitting in the waiting room, lined up, backed up, not being able to get everybody, obviously at the same time, caused a lot of frustration with our communities," she added.
Rush said even after people were technically discharged, they still had to keep them there because the hospital is required to ensure they have access to follow up care, which many of the patients had no such guarantee, and to ensure they are able to get to their next location.
"We became a hotel. We did. Up on our pediatric unit, we have a set amount of rooms that we set aside for these patients when they are discharged so that we could keep them here until they could get to the appropriate location," she said, noting staff still had to check up on the patients in the "hotel" since they were still in the hospital's care. Rush also had to go out into town to buy every single carseat for babies in order to give to the migrant mothers once they were discharged since they are required by law to not allow babies to leave their care unless there is a carseat.
"Weird question, did they seem grateful? Did they seem overwhelmed from where the world they came from?" Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) asked.
"I would say a lot of them were grateful. Some of them expected us, I had one tell me, 'You will help me get to Florida. You will pay for this.' I explained nicely that we will work with your family, but that will come from your family, not from us," a hospital staffer answered.
Rush revealed actual hotels in the area stopped accepting the illegal immigrants because of "issues" pertaining to their behavior while staying at their locations.
Google reviews left on Yuma Regional Medical Center's page within the past few months frequently say the long wait times are a major factor for giving the low ratings.
None of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee were in Yuma to take part in the tours or the hearing that later took place at city hall. Border Patrol agents in the Yuma Sector voiced their displeasure to Townhall over Democrats not bothering to show up to an official hearing.