Uninsured patient faces major hospital bills in Ontario after having legs amputated

One year after arriving from Mexico to be with his mother, Josue Rivero ended up falling ill, ended up in a coma with an infection and had his legs amputated. Then he received a bill for nearly $90,000. Mark McAllister shares his story.

Josue Rivero dreamed of a better life when he relocated from Mexico in late 2021 to join his mother in Canada.

That dream, however, quickly became a nightmare when just over a year later, he fell critically ill, slipped into a coma, and ultimately lost both his legs. The hospital providing his care then handed him a bill for tens of thousands of dollars.

“My health was in dire straits, forcing me to weigh the decision of whether to undergo leg amputation,” Rivero told CityNews through an interpreter. “But refusing the procedure meant risking death from the infection at any moment.”

Despite being undocumented, Rivero found employment in construction when he first arrived and settled into life in Toronto. In March 2023, it was severe abdominal pain that sent him rushing to the hospital, where he ended up unconscious for two weeks.

Rivero’s ordeal was made worse by a severe infection that led to the loss of circulation in his legs, leading to a life-or-death struggle.

“I just didn’t know anymore, at that moment I didn’t know what was happening,” said Rivero. “I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know if they were going to amputate my legs and not keep me in the hospital or if I was going to die.”

On March 31, 2023, the Ontario government terminated the Physician and Hospital Services for Uninsured Persons (PHSUP) program, which provided healthcare access to undocumented individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving Rivero without coverage.

He found himself repeatedly reminded of his mounting debt by Humber River Hospital, where he desperately needed treatment and the bills for his stay were piling up.

“The days were passing and I thought the debt was increasing,” said Rivero. “It was going to be very expensive to pay for the days that I was staying there and the treatments that I was receiving to save my legs.”

Fearing the consequences of unpaid bills and his immigration status, Rivero left the hospital after a month, only to return later for necessary surgery as his condition deteriorated.

Two months after first entering the hospital, Rivero was discharged, facing a bill for “standard room” charges amounting to nearly $90,000.

Carolina Leal is a frontline organizer with the Workers Action Centre and has been helping Rivero through the ordeal, doing her best to help him navigate.

“People like Josue and a lot of people in the community they lack of access to healthcare,” said Leal. “They have to pay thousands of dollars to get the service that should be able to get everyone regardless of their immigration status.”

Rivero has been home from hospital for nearly a year now, doing his best to navigate his new life. He hopes to get prosthetics at some point soon but the massive hospital bills are still outstanding.

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