Hundreds of patients have been languishing for months or even years in New York City hospitals, despite being well enough to be sent home or to nursing centers for less-expensive care, because they are illegal immigrants or lack sufficient insurance or appropriate housing.

As a result, hospitals are absorbing the bill for millions of dollars in unreimbursed expenses annually while the patients, trapped in bureaucratic limbo, are sometimes deprived of services that could be provided elsewhere at a small fraction of the cost.

“Many of those individuals no longer need that care, but because they have no resources and many have no family here, we, unfortunately, are caring for them in a much more expensive setting than necessary based on their clinical need,” said LaRay Brown, a senior vice president for the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation. Under state law, public hospitals are not allowed to discharge patients to shelters or to the street.

Medicaid often pays for emergency care for illegal immigrants, but not for continuing care, and many hospitals in places with large concentrations of illegal immigrants, like Texas, California and Florida, face the quandary of where to send patients well enough to leave. Officials in New York City say they have many such patients who are draining money from the health system as the cost of keeping people in acute-care hospitals continues to escalate.

But even if Medicaid pays for some care, taxpayer dollars are ultimately being consumed by patients who could be cared for in nursing homes or other health facilities, and even at home if supportive services were available. Care for a patient languishing in a hospital can cost more than $100,000 a year, while care in a nursing home can cost $20,000 or less.

Patients fit to be discharged from hospitals but having no place to go typically remain more than five years, Ms. Brown said. She estimated that there were about 300 patients in such a predicament throughout the city, most in public hospitals or higher-priced skilled public nursing homes, though a smattering were in private hospitals.

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