Calling the policy “archaic,” leadership at a hospital associated with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) this week eliminated institution rules that prevented a woman from receiving a desperately needed liver transplant.
Silvia Lesama-Santos, a 46-year-old Portland resident who has been in the U.S. for 30 years, received a letter from the healthcare facility rejecting her from the transplant program because she is a undocumented immigrant. The letter specifically indicated she needed to “have lawful presence” to participate in the program, according to reporting by The Oregonian.
In the letter, OHSU acknowledges that Lesama-Santos has health insurance, provided by her husband’s employer.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon took up Lesama-Santos’s case, issuing a public statement that deemed the OHSU policy of denying care to an individual on the basis of immigration status as “cruel and inhumane.”
On the same day as ACLU’S press release, OHSU countered with their own statement, announcing an end to policy.
“It was brought to our attention this evening that an archaic transplant policy was preventing an undocumented individual from being evaluated at OHSU,” the statement reads. “Upon learning of the policy, OHSU leaders acted immediately and terminated the policy. We deeply regret the pain this has caused the family.”
The statement further insists that the policy was in direct opposition to the institution’s wide-ranging community commitment. OHSU also announced an intent to audit their entire system to identify and remove any similar policies still in place.
Although Lesama-Santos and her family have been informed of OHSU’s reversal, it is early in the healthcare journey. Lesama-Santos still needs to be evaluated to make sure she’s a viable candidate for a transplant, an open question given her deteriorating health. And then she needs to be placed on the waiting list, fretting through the same shortage of donor organs as all liver transplant patients.
Willscott Naugler, MD, the medical director for the OHSU liver transplant program, acknowledges that the now-discarded policy compounded an already tough situation for Lesama-Santos, her husband, and her four children.
“It’s one of the things that makes us all feel sick and really want to do as much as we can to support this poor family because they’ve been through a lot,” Naugler told The Oregonian.
Main image credit: M.O. Stevens, via Wikimedia Commons