Matilde Roman, chief of diversity and inclusion for the city’s 11 public hospitals, which serve more than 1 million patients a year, said she’s been busy lately trying to calm people’s fears.
People who are undocumented have concerns,” she told about two dozen people gathered for a Tuesday night forum at Harlem Hospital….
“People who are undocumented have concerns,” she told about two dozen people gathered for a Tuesday night forum at Harlem Hospital. “‘If I come and I tell them that I am undocumented could they possibly share that information with the federal authorities and can I be deported or could my family be at risk,’ and the answer to you is no.”
Public hospitals serve large immigrant communities, but Roman said they don’t ask about immigration status and don’t store personal information.
It’s difficult to quantify how many patients are skipping appointments out of fear of being picked up by immigration officers. Several in attendance at the Harlem Hospital forum asked questions on behalf of friends who they said were too scared to see a doctor.
One man, who didn’t identify himself, told the group his friend had a serious dental issue.
“He cannot go to any of the dental offices because of immigration status,” he said. “So he’s going to suffer tooth pains all the time.”
Alberto Vara Vargas told the group his friend was putting off having surgery.
“He has a situation where he’s afraid to come to the hospital and he needs extraction of something in his body and he doesn’t know what to do,” Vara Vargas said.
The man was encouraged to bring his friend to the hospital for help.
The stress of deportation is also causing more illness said Doctor Jonathan Kirsten, a psychiatrist at Kings County Hospital.
“What I have been seeing a lot more of is patients experiencing a worsening of psychiatric symptoms,” he said. “One common factor I’ve noticed about these patients is they’re very afraid of being broken up from their families.”
At the Harlem forum, Sylvia Miller from New York Legal Assistance Group tried to calm people’s anxieties by clarifying the federal government’s stance on hospitals.
“The first thing that I point out to people is that ICE’s own policies that are still currently in effect state that ICE agents should avoid stopping searching, arresting, detaining immigrants in hospitals, health clinics, doctor’s offices,” she said.
Miller’s organization runs legal clinics inside all public hospitals. She encouraged those still skeptical to sign up for a consultation with a legal advocate.
“Appointments can be made through the social work department,” she said.
Avoiding medical care is bad on a personal level but it can also turn into a larger public health issue, Roman said.
“Think about influenza for example,” she said. “It is very easy for someone who has the flu to kind of contaminate the environment and make other people sick.”
Not everyone is avoiding care though. A woman from St. Lucia, who wouldn’t give her name, came to the Harlem forum with her infant son strapped to her chest.
“I’ve been going to all my doctor’s appointments. Every one that he has I go to it. I go to everything,” she said.
The city is hoping that her attitude will spread.