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County of Hudson v. Hernandez

Decided: February 15, 1978.

COUNTY OF HUDSON, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ALFREDO AND LUSIA (LUISA) HERNANDEZ, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Halpern, Larner and King. The opinion of the court was delivered by Halpern, P.J.A.D.

Halpern

The County of Hudson obtained a judgment against defendants in the Hudson County District Court for $818 for services rendered in November 1973 to Mrs. Hernandez at the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital.

Defendants appeal, contending they were entitled to free care because they were indigent when the services were rendered. When we rendered our decision on November 10, 1976 we did not decide whether defendants were indigent when the hospital services were rendered. Instead, we held they were obligated to pay because they did not assert their indigency when the services were rendered.

The Supreme Court granted certification on February 1, 1977. 73 N.J. 60 (1977). On December 6, 1977 it reversed and held that "the issues concerning the effect of the failure

to assert indigency at the time of hospital admission and waiver or estoppel with respect to a later claim of indigency are not relevant to the basic issue of indigency and the entitlement of an indigent person to hospital care without charge under N.J.S.A. 30:9-26 * * *." 75 N.J. 543. It remanded the matter to us to decide whether the trial judge had erred in determining that defendants were not indigent at the time the hospital services were rendered.

The Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital was owned and operated by the County of Hudson when defendant Mrs. Hernandez gave birth to a child there. Ownership of the hospital has since been transferred to the City of Jersey City. At the time in question it was the only county maternity hospital in the State controlled by N.J.S.A. 30:9-26, which provides in relevant part:

A maternity hospital established under section 30:9-24 of this Title shall be used exclusively for the care and treatment of persons in the county requiring the care and attention for which such hospital was intended whether such persons be indigent or nonindigent. * * *

As we noted in our earlier opinion, it is acknowledged by the litigants that the act necessarily implies that the hospital is not authorized to impose charges for services to indigents.

Unfortunately, unlike statutes dealing with other types of hospitals and a variety of services to indigents under varying situations, this statute does not define indigency or give any indication of how to determine who is entitled to free care. Left with no specific guidelines we are compelled to construe the term "indigent" having in mind the legislative intent sought to be accomplished.

Reference to out-of-state cases dealing with similar statutes is helpful in disposing of the issue before us. In Montana Deaconess Hosp. v. Lewis and Clark Cty. , 149 Mont. 206, 425 P. 2d 316, 318 (1967), the Montana Supreme Court interpreted the term "medical indigency" as describing "those persons unable to provide such necessities [as

medical care] for themselves by reason of age, infirmity or misfortune." In St. Patrick Hosp. v. Powell Cty. , 156 Mont. 153, 477 P. ...


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