The president and CEO of the primary hospital in Yuma, Arizona, warned Thursday the hospital had been overrun by migrants and that it could not afford to continue providing what he said has amounted to tens of millions of dollars in unpaid medical care.
“Migrant patients are receiving free care,” Dr. Robert Trenschel said. “They have no ability to pay.”
Trenschel, who has worked in healthcare administration for three decades, provided his remarks during a congressional hearing in Yuma in front of House Judiciary Committee Republicans.
Emphasizing the significance of the 406-bed hospital to Arizonans living in the region, Trenschel said, “The closest hospitals that do what we do are located 180 miles away in Phoenix or San Diego.”
Yuma, a city located at the U.S.-Mexico border, is situated within the busy Yuma border sector, where border officials have encountered more than 91,000 migrants crossing into Arizona illegally in fiscal year 2023. That figure is roughly the size of Yuma City’s entire population.
Pointing to the diligence of the Yuma hospital’s medical staff, Trenschel said, “They provide the same high level of care for every patient. We do not treat anyone differently, and we take pride in that. If your mom or grandchild walked through our doors, or if a migrant walks through our doors, they would receive the same level of care.”
He then went on to explain that “many” migrants he sees come in with “significant disease” and have required major treatments, including dialysis and heart surgery.
In addition to the costs of the extra staff required to work through language and cultural barriers and to provide the patients with safe discharges that can include travel accommodations and more, Trenschel said the hospital has seen $26 million in unpaid medical bills.
Our reality is this. We have delivered over $26 million in uncompensated care to these individuals in the 12-month period of time from December 2021 to November 2022. That is an auditable figure. Let me assure you, it is not an approximation. That number comes from a detailed review of unpaid patient bills directly attributed to migrant patients.
He added that the colossal financial burden “has a direct impact on our hospital” and is unsustainable, but that no state or federal officials who have listened to his warnings have offered solutions to the hospital’s revenue shortage.
“Migrant patients are receiving free care. They have no ability to pay. We have no ability to bill anyone,” Trenschel said. “We don’t know their final destination. We don’t know anything about them.”
While the majority of Republican committee members were at the hearing, Democrats declined to attend. The committee, led by chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), is in the midst of a multi-part investigation of the border and has jurisdiction over immigration legislation.
Nevertheless, Democrats cited as one reason for skipping the trip that they did not receive consultation from Republicans, despite the Democrat committee members and staff receiving an unequivocal three weeks’ notice and other subsequent communications. They also said they would not attend because no federal officials were slated to be at the hearing.
“Democrats dismiss the experiences of these real people that we’ve had a chance to visit with the last 24 hours, people affected by the Biden border crisis, and Democrats seem to believe that solutions can only come from bureaucrats in Washington,” Jordan said at the hearing. “We actually think they come from the American people.”
The hearing, and the border hospital’s appeal for solutions, comes after a Rasmussen Reports poll taken in mid-February among 1,000 likely U.S. voters found that 38 percent of respondents felt illegal migration was making their local healthcare system “worse.” Forty-one percent said it made no difference, while nine percent said it made their healthcare system “better.”
Write to Ashley Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @asholiver.