Photo: Quelino Ojeda Jimenez
After falling from a roof, former day laborer Quelino Ojeda Jimenez was a quadriplegic. He could move most of his body, speak, or even breathe on his own, but in December, the undocumented immigrant was sent back to Mexico, and the Chicago-area volunteers that took care of him are outraged.
The 20-year-old was receiving care at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois, then without his consent, Ojeda was sent to Oaxaca, Mexico by air ambulance just before Christmas to a facility ill-equipped to handle his care. The hospital is actually re-using air filters for his breathing machine.
Advocate acknowledged it never obtained Ojeda’s permission to transfer him and “regret the way this process flowed and the steps that were taken.”
“They threw him out like he was a piece of garbage,” said disability rights advocate, Horacio Esparza. Esparza runs the Progress Center for Independent Living in Forest Park, Illinois.
The hospital spent about $650,000 over the four months they cared for Ojeda, and another $60,000 to transport him to Mexico, when it became obvious that he would need lifetime care. Advocate Christ said they made a decision they believe is justified, as they did not transfer Ojeda until he was stable. They added that several long-term care facilities refused to take him as a patient due to his immigration status and lack of insurance or any other way to pay for his care.
While cases relatively similar to this happen occasionally, Ojeda’s case is different in that he did not consent to being transferred, and it was also against his family’s wishes. The Mexican Consulate in Chicago was never consulted, and the hospital has absolutely no legal requirement to send undocumented patients to their country of origin. However, they are required to ensure that the facility to which a patient is transferred can maintain proper care.
The hospital Ojeda was initially sent to in Oaxaca did not have a room for him, and specialized in emergency care only. He was then sent to a smaller hospital in early January that does not provide rehabilitation.
And though Ojeda was slowly becoming able to speak again, and move the fingers on the left side of his body, any further recovery is stifled and unlikely as his current hospital is not qualified to help him.
Each day, his uncle tries to keep the young man’s spirits up, but his aunt said he sometimes gets “desperate” because “he isn’t getting better.”
Ojeda rarely gets to see his parents and his wife, as they live about four hours away in a small town of only around 140 people, and transportation and hotels are more than they can afford.