September 3rd, 2010
08:45 AM ET

Illegal immigrants to receive dialysis care

A tentative agreement has been reached to provide 38 Atlanta, Georgia, area patients – most of whom are illegal immigrants - with continuous dialysis care, free of charge. The ruling settles a case that drew national attention and raised thorny ethical and financial questions about who should administer health care and pay for the medical bills of illegal immigrants.

Last year a dialysis clinic attached to a public hospital closed, leaving about 60 patients with no place to get the life saving treatment. They were offered help to return to their countries of origin by Grady Memorial Hospital.

Undocumented patients wary of offers to return to home countries

After some controversy, Grady agreed to pay for the dialysis of the patients who remained in the area for a year until other arrangements could be made. The latest agreement will send the 38 remaining patients to receive charity care at Fresenius Medical Services, Emory Hospital or DaVita Inc.

Exactly how many patients each center will receive and the expenses have yet to be worked out, said Matt Gove, a spokesman for Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital.

Five patients who returned to Mexico died. Whether their death related to inadequate access to dialysis is unknown, Gove said. Four patients who remained in Atlanta and continued to receive dialysis also passed away, he said.

Even with dialysis, only 35 percent of patients survive for more than five years. The process is draining and occurs three times a week in three to five hour sessions.  Dialysis can only replace about 13 percent of the kidney function. End-stage renal disease or chronic kidney failure can only be fully treated with a transplant.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.