A Complex Story About Health Care and Illegal Immigration, Told With Sympathy and Depth.

The subhead above the photo for the cover story of Sunday’s Inquirer was a bit jolting: “Relatives took her—old, ailing, illegal—to Abington’s ER. They never went back.”

Maybe it was the alliteration, but more likely it was the word “illegal.” Maybe it was the picture of an old Korean woman (left) looking desperate in a hospital bed, the notion that she was abandoned by her family, the curiosity about what happened to her—and what an Inquirer writer would have to say about her “illegalness.”

Whatever it was, I bought it. And I was happy to read an in-depth, sensitive feature focused more on the people involved than the issues that they illustrate.

Michael Vitez’s story follows Soon Ja Kim, an 83-year-old Korean woman who is in the country illegally, and her daughter and granddaughter, who are both here legally. The three live together in Media, PA, and they don’t have very much money. When 83-year-old Mrs. Kim became too ill to care for herself, and her daughter and granddaughter had to work to support the family, they ‘dumped’ her at the Abington Hospital Emergency Room. She was admitted, and discharged 4 days later. But she was left there for months. The hospital couldn’t get her a nursing home because she had no money and was ineligible for Medicaid because she does not have a green card. The family wouldn’t pick her up because they couldn’t pay.

Eventually, the hospital worked out a deal to bring the woman back to her family, but the hospital had to do the work.

The news peg for this feature story is the recent passage of the health care bill, and the fact that it doesn’t address the issue of providing care for illegal immigrants. But the story is more about the people. It highlights the complex problem at the apex of two incredibly controversial issues—health care and illegal immigration—and it does so from a sympathetic human angle. More than anything else, it’s simply a moving story. And for that, Michael Vitez gets a HOOT. 

– Jared Brey

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