The deportation of a New Jersey immigrant is being called into question by Poland's consulate general after the man, who had lived in the U.S. for decades, was sent back to his home country after having a crippling stroke while in the hospital's care.
Wladyslaw "Walter" Haniszewski, 69, had been living in the U.S. for 27 years, most recently in Perth Amboy, N.J., when he was shipped back to Poland, his close friend Jerzy Jedra told ABCNews.com. Jedra said that about two months ago Haniszewski, who is estranged from his family in Poland, fell ill and was admitted to Robert Wood Johnson University hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. There he had a debilitating stroke and was barely able to communicate.
"I visited him every week," Jedra said. "Three weeks ago on Sunday, I was there, and he was there. I called later to the hospital to see if he was still there. And they told me that he was discharged."
Haniszewski had worked in the U.S. as a construction worker but lost his job and his home a few years ago after becoming ill with circulation problems, according to Jedra. He is currently hospitalized in the Polish town of Boleslawiec, according to the Polish consulate general. But the circumstances of his medical repatriation, and how much he knew about what was happening to him, are unclear.
Jedra said that when he last saw Haniszewski -- whom he met years ago though a Christian program he runs for immigrants out of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus in Linden, N.J. – his friend was awake, but not speaking.
"The last time I saw him .... he could communicate a little with me. He would smile if he saw me. I'd say, 'If you understand me, squeeze my hand.' He was in much better condition," he said, although he did add that half his body was paralyzed.
Jedra said that he was unsure whether or not Haniszewski was in any condition to understand that he was to be sent back to Poland.
"It's hard to say," Jedra told ABCNews.com. "I don't know if he could make the decision."
Consul General to Poland Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka told ABCNews.com that she and other diplomats were trying to help Haniszewski when he was shipped to Poland without their knowledge.
"We asked the hospital to consider a legal guardian for Mr. Haniszewski earlier this month," she said. "The law in New Jersey says that in such situations, a guardian is needed to make a decision about leaving the country. This is for the court to decide. The hospital did not react."
Junczyk-Ziomecka said that it wasn't until her office heard from a hospital in Boleslawiec last week that Haniszewski was there that she realized what Robert Wood Johnson University hospital had done. She said that she and her colleagues were surprised he had been shipped overseas with no one contacted.
"We had called, and sent emails and letters with basic questions: What was the legal basis? Who has approved this? Who made the decision on his behalf? Has he in any way expressed his will to be transported? If so, in what way?" she said.
Peter Haigney, director of public relations for Robert Wood Johnson University hospital, confirmed to ABCNews.com that they had been in contact with Junczyk-Ziomecka's office.
"We were working with the consulate on this," he said.
In a statement released Wednesday night, Haigney said, "Our patient received advanced care at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital's Comprehensive Stroke Center for a total of 51 days, and was transferred under clinical supervision via a commercial business class flight into the care of qualified emergency medical technicians who accompanied the patient to the hospital.
"The Hospital has completed its initial review of this patient's transfer and is currently working with the Polish consulate to ensure the patient's needs continue to be met," the hospital said.
Despite the disappearance of their friend, Jedra and his daughter Jennifer told ABCNews.com that they both thank Robert Wood Johnson University hospital for the help it provided Haniszewski, who previous to his recent admission had had surgery at the hospital to remove two toes.
While investigating Haniszewski's medical repatriation, Junczyk-Ziomecka's office spoke with a representative from an escort medical flight company, who told her that the company was hired by the hospital to transport Haniszewski to Poland.
The representative told Junczyk-Ziomecki that Haniszewski was unable to communicate effectively while being transported, Junczyk-Ziomecki told ABC News.
"I'm very upset," Junczyk-Ziomecki said. "Imagine if you didn't know what was going on, and not the family, or the diplomatic post, is making the decision about what happens to you, but the hospital?"
The hospital's decision to ship Haniszewski abroad, rather than continue to treat him, could be part of what Seton Hall Law School professor Lori Ann Nessel says is an increasingly common situation. Undocumented and uninsured residents are placing a financial strain on hospitals, who are in turn hiring private companies to deport on their own, circumventing the government.
"Inherently, medical repatriation occurs in a vulnerable population, at their most vulnerable moment. It's very difficult for a person, or family members, to find out their legal rights," she said.
Another issue: the danger of transporting a patient across borders and overseas while they're in a medically vulnerable state.
"They're inherently dangerous," Nessel said. "Even though it's no longer an emergency treatment … we've documented instances where people have died, or been left in really deteriorated physical health, where it's unsafe to travel."
Nessel, who is also the director for Seton Hall's Center for Social Justice, said that a big issue in Haniszewski's case, and in many others, is the ability to consent.
"Even if he's not comatose, he's not in shape that he can give any informed consent," she said. "It's outrageous that a hospital is comfortable saying … that they were telling him what they were going to do. The cases are really alarming because they do happen with increasing frequency.
"There isn't sufficient government oversight," she said. "It's too easy for hospitals to pay a private company to get this person off their hands. This should never be done without the government getting involved, without regulations and protocols."