Human rights group looks at Grady dialysis clinic closure

An international human rights organization is reviewing whether Grady Memorial Hospital violated the rights of patients of its now-closed outpatients dialysis clinic.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has asked the U.S. government to respond to accusations by the patients' attorneys, who assert that the hospital violated the patients rights to life and well-being. The approximately 50 patients are virtually all poor illegal immigrants who paid nothing for their treatments.

The attorneys want the commission to advocate that the patients continue to receive treatment -- at the hospital's expense -- beyond Grady's Feb. 3 deadline to stop care.

The attorneys also want the patients to receive this care until their legal challenge works its way through the courts.

“We want to make this an international human rights issue,” said Lindsay Jones, an attorney who represents the patients.  The commission, he said, has a “political stick.”

Grady closed the outpatient dialysis unit in October, citing financial stress. It has since provided treatments for the patients through a private clinic called Fresenius.

Grady has a contract with Fresenius for care until September, but the hospital wants the patients to find their own care before then.

Mario Williams, an advocate working with the patients, said Grady has a contractual obligation to provide the care through Sept. 1, or until the hospital formally ends its contract with Fresenius. The matter involves the U.S. government because Grady receives government funding and is overseen by The Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority, he said.

The commission has only begun its review. The body has no formal enforcement power in the U.S., but its involvement could move the case beyond the local courts.

"This is a good way of trying to bring some level of international pressure on the United States," Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, a professor at Emory University's School of Law and an expert in human rights issues. "(The commission) can send delegations to investigate situations and it can generate publicity, which is helpful."

The patients' lawsuit against Grady Memorial Hospital Corp. was recently dismissed  by a Fulton County Superior Court judge, but the plaintiffs have begun an appeals process to the state's highest court.

Grady said it continues to do everything it can to help the illegal immigrants find long-term care.

"In return, we have been hit with multiple lawsuits, which have been dismissed, and now this complaint," said Grady spokesman Matt Gove.

The Grady controversy raises larger issues regarding the role of safety net hospitals in providing care to illegal immigrants.

D.A. King, president of the Dustin Inman Society, a Cobb County-based group which opposes illegal immigration, said Grady has not violated the patients' human rights.

“Nobody’s human rights are being violated by us enforcing our immigration laws," he said. "Illegal aliens cost Americans a great deal of money through health care. ... Can Grady be expected to care for anyone who escapes capture at our border, without end?”