Oregon hospital quickly puts an end to ‘archaic’ policy that denied liver transplant to undocumented immigrant

Executive looking out window
Now that OSHU reversed its policy, the ACLU is circulating a petition demanding that all Oregon hospitals change their policies. (Getty/Tom Merton)

An Oregon hospital this week quickly turned around a public relations nightmare when officials announced they had reversed an old policy that prevented an undocumented immigrant from being evaluated for a liver transplant.

Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) officials released a statement that called the transplant policy “archaic” and that they terminated it once they learned of its existence. They said they deeply regret the pain it caused the family, and the hospital’s legal team is conducting a systemwide audit to ensure no other such policies exist.

RELATED: Some U.S. hospitals perform liver transplants on foreign nationals, while American patients are on long wait lists

Officials acted quickly after the ACLU of Oregon publicized the organization’s decision to deny care to Silvia Lesama-Santos, a 46-year-old mother of four who has lived in the United States for 30 years, because she didn’t have documentation of her lawful presence or immigration documentation. The ACLU called the decision “cruel” and “inhumane.”

Now that OSHU reversed its policy, the ACLU is circulating a petition asking that all Oregon hospitals change their policies.

RELATED: Ilinois providers pledge to offer more transplant surgeries 

OSHU officials notified Santos and her family about the policy change, but by then a Seattle hospital had accepted her for treatment, The Washington Post reports. But it’s unclear whether she is well enough to travel to Seattle or if it is too late for her to get a transplant in Oregon, according to the article.  

Willscott Naugler, M.D., medical director for the liver transplant program at OHSU, told The Oregonian that the recently retracted policy has been in place for at least 11 years, although it was the first time he’d seen it used. Naugler said he thinks there was confusion over whether Santos had insurance, which is why the evaluation didn’t take place last year.

"Being undocumented, per se, should not have stopped that and that was the policy that was changed," Naugler told the publication. "I think we are with some egg on our face understanding that there was a confusion being undocumented and having no insurance."