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As El Paso hospital patients are flown elsewhere, questions arise over who pays for the return trip if someone dies

EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso hospitals have found success in their strategy of flying dozens of ICU patients to medical facilities outside of the Borderland as a means of freeing up more space during the ongoing surge of incoming Covid-19 patients.

However, a handful of local families had found themselves facing a stressful situation, after those loved ones who had been flow out of town died while they were hundreds of miles away.

According to University Medical Center spokesman Ryan Mielke, ICU patients who are flown out have their flights paid for by the state.

“The state pays going there and the state pays for it on the way back - and even if the patient happens to have the family in any of those cities, they will even accommodate that," said Mielke.

Despite that statement, a question arose about whether that policy still held true if the outgoing patient later died.

32-year-old Juan Chico was a patient at UMC who reportedly had the coronavirus and was flown to a medical center in Austin, according to his family.

He died soon after arriving in Austin and when the family contacted that hospital, they were shocked when they were told they had to pay to get his remains back.

“We were under the impression that since they took on the cost of flying him out they would bring him back," said Juan Chico's cousin, Maria Ramirez. "I am assuming they would bring him back if he had not passed, but they took no responsibility in bringing the body back.”

But this turned out to be one of several misunderstandings recently brought on by the confusion of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Obviously this is all so new and it is not something that has been going on for a long time so the hiccups are in getting the right word out to the right people, but the state definitely pays," said Mielke.

Other El Paso families have reportedly found themselves in similar situation and reached out for help to Angel Gomez and Operation H.O.P.E

“Operation H.O.P.E has stepped up for these families, I have 7 of them," said Gomez.

However, officials maintain those families will now have a clearer idea of who to contact within hospital administration about their situations to ensure the state pays the way for their loved ones to come back to the Borderland.

Article Topic Follows: Health

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Michael Gordon

Michael Gordon is an ABC-7 reporter who co-anchors Good Morning El Paso weekends.


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