Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Lehigh Valley Local News

Husband of woman facing 'medical deportation' says flight company pressured him

Screenshot 2023-03-08 at 4.32.59 PM.png
MedEscort International Inc.
A screenshot of the MedEscort website homepage, captured on March 8, 2023.

SALISBURY TWP., Pa. — The husband of a woman in a coma facing “medical deportation” from Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest said staff from a company that does such transports tried to pressure him into agreeing to have her taken back to the Dominican Republic.

A company spokesperson confirmed that it did interact with the family as part of a meeting with Lehigh Valley Hospital, but said any allegation of pressure is "absolutely not true."

  • The husband of a woman facing 'medical deportation' from Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest says staff MedEscort tried to pressure him to agree to a flight
  • Allentown-based MedEscort specializes in what critics call 'medical deportations.' The company challenges the use of that phrase
  • The company says allegations of "pressuring" the family are "absolutely not true."

In a letter sent to provide an overview of the issue, the husband, Junior Rivas, said MedEscort, an Allentown-based company, and hospital staff tried to pressure him into agreeing to a specially equipped medical flight.

MedEscort President Craig Poliner would not comment, and referred questions to the company’s lawyer.

Through the lawyer, Mark Weller, MedEscort said the allegation is "absolutely not true.

"That’s absolutely not true. MedEscort had no skin in the game and would be having a conversation only to determine what works best for the patient and family."
Mark Weller, lawyer for MedEscort

"MedEscort had no skin in the game and would be having a conversation only to determine what works best for the patient and the family," Weller said.

Rivas' wife has been publicly referred to as “S.C.” She is 46 years old and undocumented in the United States.

Rivas, 52, said complications during surgery resulted in his wife being put into a coma. He said the hospital administration told him they may have to transfer her from their Cedar Crest campus to the Dominican Republic.

Rivas said staff from MedEscort, along with hospital employees, on two occasions — on Feb. 8 and again on Feb. 10 — tried to get him to agree to let them send his wife back to the Dominican Republic.

Supporters of the family have said Lehigh Valley Health Network gave the family a March 8 deadline to find an alternative, such as a placement in a long-term care home. With few financial resources, the family has not been paying for her care at the hospital.

A spokesperson from the Free Migration Project, which is involved in S.C.'s case, said Thursday afternoon that it is pausing speaking publicly on the matter.

"At the moment, we are refraining from comment as this is a delicate matter with multiple moving parts," the advocacy group said in a statement.

The spokesperson added that "the public's voices have had a positive impact on the life of S.C., and in keeping her safe with her family."

No active contracts with the family

MedEscort has its headquarters at an address at a hangar at Allentown’s Queen City Airport.

Through the lawyer, the company initially said it had no active contracts with the family of the patient, but later said it met with the patient's family after being invited by the hospital.

According to MedEscort’s website, the company claims to have “successfully repatriated” more than 6,000 patients to more than 100 countries.

The MedEscort website was removed Thursday night. A message said "this domain isn't connected to a website yet."

After this story was published, MedEscort’s lawyer said the company decided to disable it due to public attention.

“Given the passions involved around this issue earlier in the week and concerns for other tenants and companies located at the airport, MedEscort decided to disable the website,” Weller wrote. “I expect it to be back up shortly if not already.”

As of Friday, the website was back up and running.

LehighValleyNews.com examined the website before it was initially taken down. The homepage included a section that reads, “I am a hospital CEO or CFO,” followed by “Looking to solve the problem of unfunded foreign patients in American Hospitals.”

On a section of the MedEscort website labeled “Why MedEscort?” a data table showed how much revenue apparently is lost because of “uninsured foreign patients” in hospitals.

End deportation at LVHN Salisbury Township.jpg
Julian Abraham
Protestors rally to keep a Dominican woman in a coma from being deported on March 8, 2023.

Study: 'Deportations' not in patients' best interest

Through its lawyer, MedEscort said it follows all laws, and would never coerce a patient to be taken away from the United States through its service.

It also challenged the phrase “medical deportation,” saying it is not a deportation at all.

According to "Fatal Flights," a 2021 study on the subject — a joint project between the Free Migration Project and the University of Pennsylvania Law School — a single “medical deportation” can cost up to $50,000.

MedEscort says it takes precautions to ensure there is a plan in place for after patients arrive in their country of origin, and that they should be medically stable.

According to the Fatal Flights study, “medical deportations” often are not in the patient’s best medical interests, and “typically result in poorer health or even death.”

LVHN has said it can't comment on S.C.'s case, or its dealings or business relationship with MedEscort, because of privacy issues.