Further news on the relatively unknown international phenomenon known as birth tourism we reported last night. Meadowlands Hospital‘s AmeriMama program entices pregnant Russians to deliver their babies here, making the baby eligible for U.S. citizenship. The story was broken by NJ Spotlight health care reporter Lilo Stainton and her team. She spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Thank you for being here. Great piece of work. It took you nine months. How did you even begin to start investigating this?
Stainton: It came like a lot of great stories, it came from a tip from somebody who had, let’s just say a less than positive experience at the hospital. And this particular individual had an issue with a bill that they thought was very high. But one thing that’s been interesting about reporting is we’ve heard a lot of things from people in the community that have just heard odd things about this hospital. So when we first heard about this story, I mean it seems unbelievable in certain ways, but on the other hand there was a sense that you know if it was possible this might be the place in New Jersey.
Williams: Let’s very quickly make a distinction between anchor babies and birth tourism.
Stainton: I think that is an important distinction because anchor babies there’s an entirely different intention. Those are people who intend for their entire family and life to be in this country and they want to be a part of this country and build their future here. This is a different scenario. This is people who are looking — it’s an insurance policy as someone told me. It’s —
Williams: In case something terrible happens…
Stainton: At home…
Williams: They’ve got one child who’s a citizen and they can get entrance into the United States.
Stainton: Exactly and there are benefits for that child in all kinds of ways but there are also benefits for the family.
Williams: You said there was problems with birth tourism at Meadowlands Hospital not the least of which was no neonatal intensive care unit and no ICU in case anything went wrong during the birth.
Stainton: And I think it’s important to point out two things. While this service was alarming and it turns out that it’s not that unusual nationwide — I mean unusual but not unheard of I should say. I think it’s important that we keep in mind that we never saw evidence that anybody was seriously harmed in this process and I think that you know the outcome it’s more a question of is this the best place to be promoting birth as one of its premiere services?
Williams: At any time did you find that Meadowlands Hospital had violated the law?
Stainton: Well, the law in this particular case is fairly gray. But the law in questions with birth tourism is all about immigration law and the violation in that case would take place in an office with a bureaucrat somewhere far away. We never got close to that and I have no knowledge no way or the other if we did. I think what we found is that there are all kinds of regulatory questions that have come up during the reporting about the hospital and while —
Williams: And what are they? Because I know the operators have had somewhat of a checkered past.
Stainton: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. There are a number of violations with filing paperwork to the state and while that may sound consequential we’re talking about annual financial reports which are required of all hospitals to file.
Williams: Which they’re not doing.
Stainton: They’re not doing and they haven’t filed for the last two years and they’ve accumulated now $200,000 in fines from the state just directly related to late filing.
Williams: You reported in the second part of your three-part series that while the hospital may not have been very profitable the investors were making a lot of money.
Stainton: Right, and I really should credit my former colleague Andrew Kitchenman for a lot of that work and Colleen O’Dea. What we learned is, yeah they had taken out you know $8 million sort of directly and then there was another $9 million that had flowed into various companies that they controlled. I think that’s what started to raise questions for some of the people who were watching this from the outside.
Williams: What is the thing that the most raised your sense of wait there’s something more here?
Stainton: Probably — well I have to say I mean the AmeriMama itself was surprising but then when we found out that it wasn’t really successful. It put it in a different context. It doesn’t appear that they’ve had a lot of births that way. I think the most fascinating detail to me was Vogster Entertainment and if you don’t know this go look at Colleen’s fabulous chart. Vogster’s a computer company that makes violent video games but it’s also the company that was hired and paid $3 million by the Meadowlands Hospital to create software to do some of their accounting, payroll and billing stuff. They were saying computer problems were a big part of the reason that they were delayed.
Williams: So they had an expertise in doing it?
Stainton: Which didn’t appear so, yeah.
Williams: There’s word that somebody is out there ready to buy Meadowlands Hospital — is that true?
Stainton: Yeah, there’s been an application filed to the State Health Department. They’re looking at that application. We don’t know if that would be keeping it for-profit or what would happen if it was a conversion back to nonprofit. We don’t really know yet anything about that.
Williams: Do you know if state regulators are poised to intervene in anything here?
Stainton: I think they’re taking a very close look at this. I mean, they have always said that you know their oversight of Meadowlands has been unprecedented and it has been strong. I think the question is what else can they do? And I think that they’re going to take a very serious look at the owner and think some of this through as they’re reviewing that CN. Which is what the process is all about.
Williams: Lilo Stainton thank you for being here.
Stainton: Thank you for having me.