Tag Archives: health care providers

A Community Mobilizes to End Medical Apartheid

Hello readers, we are pleased to announce that the peer-reviewed journal, Progress in Community Health Partnerships, has published a piece about our campaign with Bronx Health REACH to end segregation in the delivery of health care services by teaching hospitals in New York. You can download a copy of the piece here. Feedback welcome! We are using every avenue at our disposal to get the word out about this urgent issue, including the very types of publications that health care providers and policy decision-makers are likely to peruse.

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Ready to Leave with No Place to Go

by Shena Elrington, Staff Attorney

Undocumented immigrants lack access to viable long-term care options. This is hardly surprising, given the surge in anti-immigrant sentiment, the serious budget crises facing federal, state and local governments and the piecemeal way in which we approach health care delivery. Although not surprising, the lack of long-term care options has very real consequences for both the lives of these immigrants and the overall well-being of the healthcare system.

A flurry of recent newspaper articles has brought the plight facing undocumented immigrants in need of long-term care into sharp focus. In the typical scenario, an undocumented immigrant suffers a catastrophic injury or illness, such as stroke, and is rushed to the emergency room, where she receives care, as required by federal law. The initial injury or illness may have been so severe that the patient becomes incapacitated, unable to feed or care for herself. The hospital then looks for appropriate long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, to care for the patient. Finding such a facility, however, is nearly impossible because the patient cannot pay out of pocket and is ineligible for Medicaid because of her immigration status. The hospital, unable to find an appropriate facility to discharge the patient, chooses whether to continue to treat the patient, at a cost of several thousand dollars per day, for an indefinite period of time.

Some undocumented immigrants who find themselves in this precarious situation fare better than others. They all, however, live in a constant state of uncertainty, unsure of when the hospital will stop caring for them. And when the hospital terminates treatment, as it inevitably will, undocumented immigrants are faced with a truly terrifying range of “choices”, leading them closer and closer to death.

In September, a hospital in Atlanta refused to provide dialysis to nearly two dozen undocumented immigrants who had been receiving treatment for years. As deadly toxins built up in their systems, some immigrants sought care at various emergency departments, but were refused treatment because their conditions had not deteriorated significantly enough to trigger the hospital’s duty to provide emergency care under federal law. These immigrants were forced to wait until they were literally at death’s door to receive treatment. After much wrangling and public outrage, the hospital agreed to continue to provide dialysis for three more years.

But, what happens when that three-year period comes to an end?

Some hospitals, acting outside the federal immigration process, actually contract with private transport agencies to have these patients, with or without their consent, flown back to their home countries, without ensuring that there are any healthcare facilities in those countries able to support their needs. In essence, these immigrants are sent home to die. Based on our work with community partners and advocates, we know these “medical deportations” are not isolated events.

The perils undocumented immigrants in need of long-term care face are the direct result of failures in our immigration and health policies. Our current system mandates that hospitals provide care to undocumented immigrants when they are so ill that they require emergency treatment, at the most expensive point of access in the health care system – the emergency room – yet provides no real avenue for them to receive cheaper preventative care or be moved from more expensive acute care facilities to more appropriate, and less expensive, long term care facilities like nursing homes when necessary.

While health reform expanded the number of Americans eligible for Medicaid, it fell short of including undocumented immigrants – prohibiting them from even purchasing insurance within the exchanges. While the majority of undocumented immigrants are young and healthy, it is inevitable that tragedy will strike at one point or another and some immigrants will need long-term care. Our current policies make no provisions for this eventuality. Worst yet, there is virtually no oversight over hospitals that repatriate patients to their home countries, discharging them to family members or facilities abroad that often lack the means to properly care for them. And, there is little to no discussion of the legal and ethical breaches healthcare providers and hospitals may be committing by failing to discharge undocumented immigrants to appropriate healthcare facilities.

We need to discuss these issues, even if talking about them is difficult in a political climate where anti-immigrant sentiment runs rampant and budget cuts seem to always land on the backs of the poor, because some of our most fundamental values are at stake. Just a few weeks ago, we glimpsed the erosion of these values during a Republican presidential nominee debate, when the audience proudly affirmed their willingness to let a hypothetical 30 year old man who needed intensive care die because he opted out of health insurance. There is little doubt that this crowd would feel the same way about an undocumented immigrant in need of care, who had no access to insurance to begin with. Is this really the kind of world we want to live in?

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Acknowledging Difference, not Defeat: A Racial Justice Perspective on the Medicaid Debate

This post, by Health Justice Director Nisha Agarwal and Staff Attorney Shena Elrington, also appears on the Race-Talk blog, Huffington Post, and Alternet.

The federal Medicaid program has become something of a policy piñata in the national discourse. Over the course of the past year conservatives have been asking, “is Medicaid real health insurance?” The public insurance program for low-income individuals has been criticized for not providing sufficient access to physicians, long wait times to see a physician when one can be accessed, and poorer quality of care once patients get in the door – all of which conservatives argue are reasons to dismantle the program altogether. If being on Medicaid isn’t much better than being uninsured, why bother spending tax dollars on it?

Meanwhile, a recent editorial in the New York Times offered unequivocal praise for the Medicaid program, pointing to a study conducted in Oregon that allowed researchers to compare the experiences of people who received Medicaid coverage to those who did not. According to the study, Medicaid recipients reported better health than the uninsured recipients  and were less likely to have medical bills sent to  collection agencies or forgo other obligations in order to pay for their medical care. Supporters of the public health insurance plan were therefore able to hit back against conservative naysayers and argue that Medicaid truly is a program worth preserving and expanding.

While the national debate lurches back and forth, we find a more complicated reality on the ground, in the low-income communities of color where we work to eliminate race- and class-based biases in the health care system. The uncomfortable truth is that Medicaid beneficiaries do often receive poorer quality of health care, particularly when it comes to accessing specialists. But to see this you have to look at how Medicaid beneficiaries fare vis-à-vis privately insured individuals, not the uninsured, which has been the focus of current debates.

For example, in  our work with Bronx Health REACH, a faith-based community coalition in the Bronx, we have seen how Medicaid patients seeking specialty services at major New York City hospitals are seen in separate—effectively segregated—facilities from their privately-insured peers, with longer wait times, less experienced doctors, and much less continuity and coordination of care. (You can read more about these problems in this monograph published by the Bronx Health REACH coalition and in this complaint we filed with the New York State Attorney General.)

Working with low-income parents, we have also seen how children with Medicaid have to wait for grotesquely long periods of time before they can get mental health treatment and special education evaluations, if they are able to access these services at all, and how elite institutions providing such services refuse to serve publicly insured populations despite the significant shortage of pediatric mental health providers in New York City.

Our experience thus seems to support conservative arguments to some extent: Medicaid beneficiaries do not have sufficient access to physicians, experience long wait times to see a physician when one can be accessed, and suffer from poor quality of care once they get in the doctor’s door, at least when compared with those patients who are privately insured.

Undoubtedly the current climate surrounding Medicaid makes it difficult for advocates to point out the lower quality of care Medicaid beneficiaries receive, for fear that any criticism of the program will serve as powerful ammunition for the other side to use. But acknowledging certain aspects of the conservative argument need not mean that advocates have to accept the entirety of their conclusions. Something else we’ve learned through our work is that Medicaid isn’t “bad” insurance per se. Rather, healthcare providers and institutions choose to treat Medicaid beneficiaries badly by discriminating against them with respect to the quality of care provided. Consider the Bronx example. Hospitals in New York City (and elsewhere) are not only reimbursed by Medicaid for providing patient care, they also receive over $1 billion through the Medicaid program for non-patient purposes such as resident doctor training – a funding stream so substantial that the New York hospital industry is fighting tooth and nail to keep it safe from federal budget cuts. Medicaid seems to pay hospitals very well, and yet these same hospitals choose to provide segregated and unequal care to Medicaid beneficiaries. Why?

As with many things, these bizarre dynamics cannot be understood without accounting for race, and for the fact that the vast majority of publicly insured individuals in New York City are black and brown. We have heard how top-flight specialists want to be able to choose the patients that they treat, which is invariably code for avoiding people of color who are perceived to be more “complicated” and “non-compliant.” Elite NYC hospitals eager to attract these specialists happily comply to doctors’ demands by giving them fancy facilities to see their preferred patients, while the Medicaid patients are separated out into “clinics”, where they are treated by a rotating band of doctors-in-training.

In addition to wanting to attract renowned specialists, the hospitals want to attract the “right” kind of patients – that is, wealthy, white, suburban patients. Behind closed doors administrators will openly argue that their “‘paying’ patients will not want to sit in the same waiting room as people on Medicaid,” so it is simply better for the hospital to segregate the two groups.

Worse still, these biases become a part of the culture of how medicine is taught, with students and residents working with Medicaid patients in the clinics learning very early on that some patients—the kinds of patients they get to practice on, the poor patients of color—are less worthy than others. Indeed, research has suggested that by the end of their medical education, student doctors actually become more biased than they were when they began medical school. These biases, whether conscious or not, permeate the medical system at both an individual and systemic level, affecting the quality of care that Medicaid beneficiaries receive.

From our perspective, the debate about Medicaid is less about left-and-right and more about black and white. The conservatives’ sleight of hand is to point to quality of care problems for Medicaid beneficiaries and to jump from there to the conclusion that the Medicaid program is to blame, which obscures the mediating role that institutional racism plays in ensuring poor outcomes for Medicaid patients. Meanwhile, supporters of Medicaid effectively erase race from the debate as well by closing their eyes to the many challenges Medicaid beneficiaries face in accessing high-quality health care, despite the fact that they are walking in the door with an insurance that research shows is pretty good. A more nuanced position would acknowledge differences in care without accepting defeat. It is not the Medicaid program that must be dismantled, but the biased attitudes and policies that lead Medicaid patients to get inferior quality of care.

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New York Needs Safety Net Hospitals

Here is our op-ed on the Medicaid Redesign Team that ran in today’s Albany Times Union. Comments most welcome!

By Nisha Agarwal and Shena Elrington

Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s Medicaid Redesign Team was handpicked by him and elected by no one. Though touted as a collection of health care “experts,” the majority of the team’s members have strong ties to special interests in the health care industry.

Not surprisingly, its proposals for cuts reflect the vested interests of its members.

Proposal 67 calls for the closing or downsizing of safety net hospitals that provide health care services in medically under-served areas. We need more health services in these communities, not less, particularly since these communities have been ravaged by hospital closures in recent years.

Central Brooklyn, with its extremely low-income and 90 percent black and Latino population, has lost two hospitals, OB-GYN and prenatal services at two other local hospitals, 13 outpatient clinics, a federally funded health center and at least two women, infants and children program centers that provide nutrition education and assistance in recent years, despite having some of the worst health outcomes in the city.

The infant mortality rate in the Brownsville section of central Brooklyn is nearly five times that of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Do we really need more hospitals in areas like central Brooklyn to close?

When safety net hospitals close, people are forced to travel farther to see care at the few institutions that remain open — usually elite private academic teaching centers. These are the very same institutions to which many of the Medicaid team’s members have strong connections, raising questions about the appropriateness of using the regulatory process to funnel business to special-interest groups.

What is more, proposals that would actually support safety net institutions and use public dollars in an accountable and transparent way never made it into the final Medicaid reform package.

Proposal 66, for example, would have recalibrated charity care and Medicaid dollars so that the distribution of that funding would be based on the actual Medicaid and uninsured losses. Hospitals in New York now receive “indigent care” funding regardless of the volume of care they actually provide to Medicaid and uninsured patients. So, hospitals that provide very little care to low-income New Yorkers often get more money from the indigent care pool than they deserve, while safety net institutions, which provide a lot of care to Medicaid and uninsured patients, do not get their fair share.

Recalibrating the way this funding is distributed would not only make sense and bolster the financial stability of critical safety net institutions. It also is required under federal health reform and was very favorably ranked through the Medicaid Redesign Team’s own scoring process. Yet, the proposal never made it into the team’s final recommendations.

New York is in the midst of an epic budget crisis. Medicaid is seen as the linchpin to solving that crisis. But its redesign should not be done in such a way as to threaten the very institutions that serve as a safety net for our state’s most vulnerable residents. The erosion of our health care safety net threatens the stability of the system for all of us.

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Decisionmaking From on High

Tomorrow, Friday, February 18, is the deadline for members of Governor Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team to submit their “scores” for 49 proposals given to them by the New York State Department of Health that are supposed to generate $2.85 billion–yes, billion–in cuts to the Medicaid program. These 49 were culled from the several thousands received via a severely flawed public hearing and online/written submission process that took place over the last several weeks in cities across the state. Not only were many proposals put forward by consumers and members of the public entirely excluded from the 49 that the Team will ultimately be deciding on, the few that did make it in were inaccurately captured in the bizarre spreadsheet format being used to capture major policy proposals to restructure the state and the country’s largest health insurance program for the poor. Oh, and did we mention that the proposals are going to be scored using Survey Monkey? That’s right, Survey Monkey.

In response, the Save Our Safety Net Campaign, of which we are a part, issued this open letter to the members of the Medicaid Redesign Team, instructing them how to vote on certain key proposals. This is not to say that we accept or buy into the ridiculous “process” that has been put in place by the MRT, but we also can’t remain silent on issues that will significantly impact the communities we care about. You can click here to download a copy of the letter.

Please let us know if you have any comments or concerns. There will still be other opportunities to weigh in on this process. On February 24th, the Medicaid Redesign Team will be meeting to discuss the scored proposals. The meeting will take place in Albany, and it’s important to have consumer voices out in full force. March 1 is when the final recommendations of the Team will be announced. We are planning activities in New York City around the announcement and will keep you posted about details. And, of course, state elected officials will have to weigh in on the recommendations too, and we are hoping that if you are  a New York resident that you will tell your representatives how you feel about the Medicaid program and why it is important to you and your community.

Critical decisions about the health care system in New York should not be made from on high, but from the ground up.

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Mount Sinai’s Tisch Cancer Institute: New Building, Same Walls

This post is by Alyssa Aguilera, NYLPI’s Health Justice Community Organizer.

Late last month I attended my first Mount Sinai Community Roundtable – a monthly convening of various community stakeholders interested in the happenings of the Harlem-based academic-medical center. These meetings, according to Mount Sinai’s own Community Service Plan, are held to “keep its pulse on the needs of the East Harlem and Central Harlem communities”. A worthy effort indeed, I was interested to see how the hospital would approach the invariably difficult town-gown relationship between a highly-touted medical center and its surrounding neighborhood, which despite proximity still remains a medically underserved community.

Last month’s meeting was to focus on the new Tisch Cancer Institute – “a state-of-the-art, patient-oriented, comprehensive cancer and research facility” slated to open in early 2011. On hand to explain the Institute was its director Dr. Steven Burakoff who led the group through a presentation highlighting the research, education, and care that would be provided at the Institute.

Funded in part by a $40 million gift from James and Meryl Tisch, the construction of the Institute is part of a larger expansion plan currently in motion at Mount Sinai. This initiative, led by Mr. Tisch, is being called The Campaign for Mount Sinai and is an aggressive and ambitious capital campaign aiming to raise $1 billion in private donations to improve the entire medical center.

What I found quite interesting in both the presentation and when perusing the Mount Sinai website, was the emphasis on “translational medicine” and the creation of “institutes” where this practice will be honed. Translational medicine, although multi-faceted, basically promotes the idea that “new treatments and research knowledge [should] actually reach the patients or populations for whom they are intended and [be] implemented correctly.”[1] So for example, the Tisch Cancer Institute will house both the research and treatment of cancer allowing for mutual access between researchers, practitioners, and patients that will hopefully produce accelerated positive results for all those involved.

Mount Sinai is planning to create institutes for 14 different medical areasThe Black Family Stem Cell Institute, Friedman Brain Institute, Experimental Therapeutics Institute, etc. – and all are part of this ten-year expansion project.

In addition to the presentation on the Tisch Cancer Institute, the community roundtable also featured Professor Lina Jandorf, Director of Cancer Community Outreach in the Department of Oncological Sciences. She spoke about her work to reduce ethnic and racial disparities by improving education, screening and treatment protocols for communities of color in Harlem. Her own research emphasizes the need for this type of work. She writes:

Cancer mortality and incidence rates among minorities in [East Harlem] are 30% higher than elsewhere in New York City (NYC). For example, prostate and colorectal cancer incidence among adults aged 45-64 years living in this community is significantly higher than the average for NYC. Women in [East Harlem] are diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages of disease than are women from other NYC neighborhoods. Malignant neoplasms are the second leading cause of death in [East Harlem] after heart disease, with an age-adjusted rate of 147 per 100,000 when compared with 91 per 100,000 for the rest of NYC.[2]

The lack of access to cancer prevention and treatment in low-income communities of color is unfortunately no surprise and I am happy to see that Ms. Jandorf and her colleagues at Mount Sinai are engaging in programming to help understand and ameliorate this somber public health reality. However, the lingering question I had throughout the presentation, and asked of Dr. Burakoff and Ms. Jandorf themselves, was this: It is great that the Tisch Cancer Institute is being constructed in a community so desperately in need of the care it provides, but what is Mount Sinai doing to grant access to the Institute for their neighbors many of whom are on Medicaid, are under-insured, or uninsured?

Their answer was not as straight-forward as I would have liked. They mostly just pointed to the community programs that are already available to the public. Dr. Burakoff said something interesting though, he said that as a hospital once they screen patients and detect cancer they have a responsibility to treat them. A vague answer, but I can assume that if the Institute had any plans to actually screen and treat low-income patients, they would have mentioned it at that time. Though just to be sure, I called a few days after the presentation to inquire about breast cancer treatment for a Medicaid beneficiary and was told they could be seen in the clinic setting, not the Institute itself.

So it seems more than likely that Mount Sinai will continue to deny access for low-income patients to the highest quality of care their facilities provide. They will regulate low-income patients to the clinic system, where they will get a lower quality of care (more on our work to end the two-tiered system of care in NYC academic-medical centers here), and the staggering health disparities in communities of color like East and Central Harlem will persist. Undoubtedly though, these new initiatives by Mount Sinai will allow them to rise in the ranks as one of the “best” hospitals in the country – well, for those who are lucky enough to have good private insurance.

Funny enough, Mount Sinai’s expansion project and institute model is all about breaking down walls: between the hard sciences and clinical medicine, between clinical medicine and patient outcomes, and between specialty areas in an attempt to tackle comorbidities often present in patients with chronic illness.

But despite millions of dollars, the recruitment of top faculty, and state-of-the art facilities, one big wall will still remain for low-income New Yorkers seeking cancer treatment at the Tisch Cancer Institute – the ability to afford it. And sadly, this treatment is one thing many New Yorkers cannot afford to live without.


[1] Woolf, Steven H., MD, MPH. “The Meaning of Translational Research and Why It Matters.” Journal of the American Medical Association 299(2) (2008): 211-3.

[2] Landorf, L and Fatone, A. and Borker, P.V. (2006) Creating alliances to improve cancer prevention and detection among urban medically underserved minority groups: The East Harlem Partnership for Cancer Awareness. Cancer. 107 (8). pp. 2043-2051.

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Community Input When a Hospital Closes

As we have written about before, the community of Southeast Queens has long experienced some of the worst health outcomes in New York City across a variety of measures.  No doubt, the shuttering last year of both Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica and St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst has only placed additional strains on the already insufficient healthcare infrastructure in Queens, and on Southeast Queens in particular. These and other hospital closures occurred without any input from community members – the very people who utilized the services that these hospitals provided were left unable to make their voices heard on how the closure would affect them, and on what healthcare services they thought were critical for the community.

In order to ensure that communities affected by future hospital closures would have at least some voice in the process, Assembly Member Rory Lancman and State Senator Shirley Huntley introduced the Hospital Closure Planning Act. This original bill would have required the Commissioner of Health to hold a “public hearing” within 30 days of a proposed hospital closure in order to assess the impact a hospital closure would have on the area it serves.

Despite the overwhelming support in the legislature, as well as advocacy in support of the bill from Southeast Queens United in Support of Healthcare (SQUISH) among others, Governor Patterson vetoed that initial bill.  Now, after negotiating with DOH and the Governor–and, importantly, after the closure of St. Vincent’s in Manhattan, which, in contrast to the hospital closures in Queens garnered significant and vocal opposition from a notably wide range of politicians and stakeholders –the Governor signed a revised version of the bill.

As Assembly Member Lancman said last week, “The government has to, at least, make an effort to let communities affected by a hospital closure know how their healthcare needs will be addressed. We may not be able to stop a hospital from closing, but we ought to be able to measure the impact of that closing and come up with a plan for serving the residents who relied on that hospital for healthcare services.”

The revised bill requires the Commissioner to hold a “community forum” within 30 days after a hospital closure to hear from affected community members.  After the forum, the Commissioner must also release a written report on the anticipated impact of the closure to the community, as well as the Department of Health’s plans to mitigate the negative effects of the closure and to ensure continued access to healthcare.

To be sure, the Act is only a small first step in making sure that low-income communities of color most in need receive equal access to quality health care. Nevertheless, it is an important one in that it begins to recognize the community’s role in health planning.

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The Hypocrite’s Oath: Latino Immigrants and Health Access in the Hamptons

This post, by Health Justice Director Nisha Agarwal, first appeared on the Race-Talk.org blog and is also available on Huffington Post.

Like many New Yorkers did this summer, I boarded a Hampton Jitney from the east side of Manhattan in late August and made my way to the finger tips of Long Island.  Instead of landing on the beach, however, I found myself in the crowded office of a small community-based organization bursting with children and parents, canned goods and clothing swaps, and the bilingual chatter of Latino immigrants seeking help for any number of different problems.  I was with a colleague, and we were there to meet a client.  Here is her story:

In late July, Laura was rushed to the emergency room of a local Hamptons hospital due to severe stomach pains.  She is only a teenager, undocumented, uninsured, and uncomfortable speaking anything but Spanish to discuss complicated health matters.  After some ten hours spent unattended on a hospital gurney, Laura was finally seen by a surgeon the following morning.  No one explained to her, in a language she could understand, why her stomach was on fire or why she was about to receive an operation.  Turns out it was appendicitis.

Laura was admitted to the hospital for 24 hours after her surgery and then summarily discharged, even though she was still in pain.  No one talked to her about a discharge plan or explained self-care strategies to use in the wake of her operation.  All she knew, through the help of family members advocating on her behalf, was that there was still a drainage tube in her body, and she would have to go to her surgeon’s private office to have it removed.

At this private office, Laura was told that she would have to pay $1500 upfront to extricate the tube, and if she didn’t pay it they couldn’t do the procedure for her.  The emergency room of the hospital where she was originally treated, and to which she returned after this extortionate demand, also refused to remove the tube, insisting again that she go to the surgeon’s private office.  Her fear mounting, Laura turned to her primary care physician and the local community group for help.  Together they advocated with the hospital and the surgeon to have the fee for the tube removal reduced to $300.

Sitting in the surgeon’s waiting for the second time, Laura and her family were subjected to a verbal assault by the physician who initially treated her.  She was the reason he and his assistant had to get up in the middle of the night to come to the ER and operate, he shouted.  She was ungrateful for the fact that he wasn’t getting paid for the services he was providing to her.  Oh, and he also wanted to know—in front of all of the other patients in the waiting room—was she in the country legally or illegally? Only after his anger was vented did the surgeon remove the drainage tube from Laura’s body, but as a parting gift, he also reneged on their payment arrangement and billed her $5000.

As a civil rights-oriented health care lawyer in New York City, I thought I knew what racial and ethnic disparities in health care looked like, and how they manifested themselves.  But Laura’s case surprised even me.  Here we had potential violations of federal and state discharge planning laws, language access regulations, patient dumping statutes and financial assistance laws, not to mention flagrant disregard for the medical profession’s codes of conduct and a whiff of fraud and consumer protection violations.

What is more, hers is potentially not the only story of its kind.  In our interview, Laura’s sister mentioned another family member who had been turned away from the emergency room of the same Hamptons-area hospital.  The director of the community-based group where we were conducting the interview also knew of a similar case.  To her, the mistreatment was targeted toward a specific patient population.  As an Irish-Catholic nun, she noted, she had little problem accessing high-quality, respectful care from the same surgeon who treated Laura.  However, the same was not true for the low-income Latino/a residents of the community whom she served.

Since meeting with Laura, I have wondered how cases like her come into being.  What are the factors that allow doctors—people who have pledged to do no harm—to exhibit openly hate and bias, to take actions that actually threaten the lives and well-being of some category of their patients?  What are the dynamics that make it acceptable for immigrant patients seeking relief from pain and illness to be turned away from their local houses of healing?  How does this happen in a place known to be the summer playground of New York’s financial and cultural elite?  Do the Haves not have enough?

As has been mentioned previously on this blog, this has been a long, hot summer of hate and injustice against Latinos and immigrants, and I can’t help but think that the vitriol spewed into our airwaves is creating a space—a social sanction—for overt acts of harm.  After all, Long Island is the place that anti-immigrant provocateur Steve Levy calls home, and whose blistering comments against the undocumented are only the most public example of the kind of anger that led to Marcelo Lucero’s brutal murder two years ago this fall.  Levy and others like him have also complained that Mexican “anchor babies” are the reasons hospitals on Long Island are in financial distress.  It should come as little surprise to us, then, that some physicians at these very hospitals have adopted a hostile attitude toward those patients that they see as a threat.

As a health care advocate, I have to be attuned to these broader dynamics around race and immigration, for they are directly impacting the clients I serve.  And, as racial justice activists, we all have to be vigilant of the many manifestations of hate – not only in the extreme examples of violent crimes and assaults, but also the quiet, painful attacks that take place in our schools, workplaces and hospitals.

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(Not) Born in the USA

This post is by Macharia Edmonds, a summer intern with the Health Justice Program and a law student at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, IL.

Too often in this country, the treatment of those not born in America differs from those born within our borders.  Some New York hospitals have done the unthinkable and are discharging some non-citizen patients to their death.  These hospitals are practicing what is called medical deportation.  This occurs when a hospital discharges a severely injured, sometimes disabled, non-citizen patient who is in need of long term care to a medical facility in their home country.  Unfortunately these facilities are usually not equipped to adequately treat the patient’s medical needs and the patient often suffers considerable pain and sometimes death from this lack of treatment.

Under New York state law, a patient is required to sign off on a discharge plan which details any health care arrangements needed after the discharge.  These patients are sometimes incapacitated or can have a limited English proficiency which makes understanding the choices they are dealt with difficult if not impossible.  In situations where the patient does not speak English the hospital can and should provide an interpreter.  In situations where the patient may be incapacitated, things become more complex.  If the patient is not able to consent to a discharge then the hospital should look to either an appointed surrogate or a family member.  If there is no one from these groups available to decide, there is often confusion as to who has the right to make this decision.

The New York State Legislature has attempted to address this issue by introducing S7429 and A8647C, a bill that creates a three person panel which would be in charge of making these decisions in the absence of other family or appointed representatives.  This panel would presumably be able to protect patients from being denied adequate medical treatment.  This bill is well intentioned but has a number of issues.  Some of these issues include who is allowed to serve on this panel, the lack of information given to the patient and family during the decision making process, and the lack of restrictions and regulations on discharges to foreign medical facilities.  NYLPI has offered and will continue to offer to the Senate and Assembly suggestions for this bill so that it ensures these patients who are incapacitated and not able to advocate for themselves receive the proper medical care.  No matter what country you are a citizen of, simply being a human being should require a certain level of care.

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Proton Beams or Primary Care

Crain’s Health Pulse, the New York health industry rag, has been abuzz for the last couple of weeks with news about health services in Queens.  Specifically, there’s been a lot of talk about a proposed “proton beam cancer center” to be located on the former site of Mary Immaculate Hospital (“MIH”), and to be funded by “500 rich foreigners” (for real).  Readers of this blog will recall that we have been collaborating with a community-based coalition, Southeast Queens United in Support of Healthcare (SQUISH), for several years, first working with coalition members to keep MIH from shutting down and now partnering with them to advocate for health services to fill the void created by the hospital’s closure.  The question is: does a proton beam cancer center fill that void, even in part?

And the truth is we’re not really sure.  On the one hand, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Jamaica, Queens, resulting in 3,636 potential years of life lost in the area according to the NYC Department of Health.  Proton beam therapy is basically a way to offer cancer radiation treatment that is more targeted and less likely to impact healthy tissue surrounding the cancerous cells.  Considering these facts, a proton beam cancer center would seem to be a good thing because it offers cutting-edge treatment for a disease that kills a lot of people in Southeast Queens.

On the other hand, no one knows if the proposed cancer center would actually be affordable or accessible to most of the residents of Southeast Queens.  Will it accept public health insurance plans like Medicare and Medicaid?  Will it have sliding fee scales for the uninsured and under-insured?  If not, then the proton beam cancer center will hardly fill the enormous gaps in health access that plague the neighborhoods of Southeast Queens, and will serve instead as a lily pad for rich foreigners who can hop in and out of Queens for their high-end treatment from nearby JFK airport.  Viewed from this perspective, the proton beam cancer center isn’t worth celebrating; what is needed is more primary care and hospital beds.  Indeed, just recently, Crain’s also reported that the intensive care units of hospitals in Queens are themselves in a state of acute stress — over-capacity by over 200% in some cases.

There is no doubt that the Southeast Queens community needs more health services.  As we’ve written before, in New York City and in other major metropolitan areas across the country there is a close relationship race, place and access to healthcare services, and Southeast Queens is a prime example of the mis-match between healthcare need and resources.  In the wake of MIH’s closure, it is unclear whether wave-of-the-future technology like proton beam cancer therapy is really what the doctor ordered, or if it would simply be better to have some old school primary and preventative care services that would help people avoid getting gravely ill in the first place.  In an effort to better understand the implications of the center on their community, members of SQUISH are considering reaching out to the State Department of Health to find out more about the proposal and make their concerns known.  We will keep you apprised of any developments, but, in the meantime, don’t be shy!  Let us know through your comments here if you live in Southeast Queens and have any opinions on the matter.  We look forward to hearing from you.

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Filed under health disparities, people of color