PEORIA -- When a former patient at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center applied for financial aid to pay for a minor test there, the hospital didn't say no. Instead it questioned whether she was legally entitled to be in the USA.
The patient happened to be affiliated with Haitian Hearts, a Peoria charity which brings heart patients to the USA for treatment.
St. Francis contacted the US Consulate in Haiti to ask about the patient, Haitian Hearts founder Dr. John Carroll said. The Consulate contacted Carroll on April 8, and he responded with the facts about the patient, Heurese Joseph.
Joseph, 30, has a valid medical visa that does not expire until mid-May.
She had heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in December and is now recuperating in Peoria, Carroll said. To save a 7-hour drive to Cleveland, Carroll asked about getting an echocardiogram for her at St. Francis, to check her progress.
Joseph and Carroll hoped to get a reduced rate for the test, and were told that Joseph could apply to the OSF Charity Assistance Program.
Joseph filled out the application form and wrote a letter describing her medical and financial status and submitted them to OSF.
But after delaying three weeks, St. Francis contacted the Consulate in Haiti, Carroll said, claiming that Joseph was seeking charity care in Peoria.
This action by OSF confused the Consulate in Haiti. The Consulate wanted to know if Joseph had been operated on at Cleveland Clinic, as her visa had stated, Carroll said.
OSF had been told that she had been operated on at Cleveland Clinic and simply needed an outpatient echocardiogram. An OSF cardiologist had agreed to read the echocardiorgram at no charge for Joseph.
The hospital could simply have refused the care, as it has done for other Haitian Hearts patients since it decided to oust the charity from its doors a few years ago.
Instead, its action could be interpreted as an attempt to jeopardize any US care for Haitian Hearts patients by implying fraud. The medical visas are very difficult to obtain, Carroll said.
Carroll is furious. "This is evil," he said. "St. Francis should not have called the Consulate on a girl who needs an echocardiogram. She was their patient. She is their patient."
Joseph received her initial life-saving heart surgery at St. Francis in 2002. Haitian Hearts and Carroll have been following her in Haiti every since. Haitian Hearts supplies her with medication year round and echocardiograms in Port-au-Prince.
But St. Francis, a Catholic, not-for-profit hospital, has refused to provide her or other Haitian Hearts patients any follow-up surgery, even if Haitian Hearts pays for it.
St. Francis "won't take any of them back," Carroll said. "This is patient abandonment."
The hospital's actions raise many questions. Does OSF routinely question the legal status of other charity patients? If so, how do they decide whom to question? Do they take second looks only at brown or black skinned charity patients? Or those with Spanish last names? Or just those affiliated with Haitian Hearts?
Carroll was a prominent and respected emergency room physician at St. Francis for two decades, and he also founded Haitian Hearts, which brought destitute children and teens from Haiti to St. Francis for heart surgery. Without it, they would die, he said.
But after he questioned some of the hospital's emergency room procedures in 2001, he was fired. Then the hospital soon ousted the Haitian Hearts program, likely because its fund raising competed with the hospital's own fund raising for a new children's hospital.
For an in depth account of Carroll's struggles with St. Francis and Haitian Hearts, see his blog.
St. Francis has been asked to comment on this post, and any reply will be posted here as soon as possible.
-- Elaine Hopkins
UPDATE 4/11/09: No response from St. Francis. Happy Easter everyone.