Look long enough in most hospitals, and you’ll probably find some decidedly unwelcome guests. Hospitals, particularly those in urban centers like New York, are faced with a growing burden from so-called “permanent patients,” who hospitals are stuck caring for even though they are well enough to be released, the New York Times reports. Hospitals by law cannot release a patient to a shelter or to the streets, so if patients have nowhere to go the hospital is stuck keeping them—and footing the bill.
These “permanent patients” often include illegal immigrants or people without insurance. One Chinese man, for example, spent more than four years in a New York hospital after a stroke. As an illegal immigrant he was ineligible for Medicaid benefits, and his Chinese relatives refused to take him off the hospital’s hands. “This gentleman cost us millions of dollars,” the hospital’s president says. “This is an acute-care hospital. This patient shouldn’t be here.” And his stay was comparatively short—most of these patients stay more than five years, says a city health official, estimating that New York’s facilities are home to some 300 such patients. (Read more health care stories.)