2011-05-19 / Top Stories

Public Hospitals Will Keep Patient Immigrant Status Private

New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) President Alan D. Aviles and Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Fatima Shama this week issued a reassuring message to immigrant New Yorkers who may not be accessing healthcare services for fear of having their immigration status disclosed to federal authorities.

The message, delivered in an open letter, written in 12 different languages, assures immigrants that every patient has a right to healthcare privacy. It also underscores a commitment to keep immigrant status completely confidential and to serve all New Yorkers regardless of immigration status.

“For generations New York has been known as a city of immigrants, and for generations the public hospitals have cared for New York’s immigrant populations,” said Aviles. “It is important to remind immigrant New Yorkers that they can get quality healthcare in our city without fear.”

HHC’s promise of privacy reflects Mayor Bloomberg’s Executive Order 41, which directs city employees to protect confidential information, including immigration status, belonging to people seeking city services. The Order was issued to ensure that all New Yorkers, including immigrants, can access city services that they need and are entitled to receive.

“A vibrant and healthy immigrant community is key to ensuring New York City continues to thrive and we are committed to providing critical and quality services to all those living in our City,” said Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Fatima Shama.

The letter from Aviles and Shama states in part, “We respect you and want to help you. People who work in a public hospital will not tell the Immigration Service or other law enforcement agencies your immigration status…Our public hospitals and health centers have a long and proud history of caring for everyone. That includes immigrants who are not citizens or legal residents and people who do not have money to pay for care. Our commitment is strong. It has not changed.”

Chung-wha Hong, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said: “HHC is renewing its promise that its hospitals and health care providers will never share information with immigration authorities. Immigrants need to take this message to heart, and should feel safe getting health care at New York’s great public hospitals and clinics.”

The letter will be distributed to patients and staff, community and immigrant advocacy organizations, and ethnic community papers across the city. Written in English, Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Urdu, Bengali, Polish, Albanian and Arabic, it urges immigrants not to be afraid to go to an HHC hospital, emergency room or health center, and reconfirms the policy against disclosing patient information.

The open letter has been issued before: in 2006 in the midst of heightened debate concerning immigration laws and again in 2007.

Most children and pregnant women in New York City, regardless of immigration status, are eligible for health insurance. HHC staff helps all uninsured patients apply for insurance programs for which they may be eligible. The public hospitals also help patients who cannot get insurance by providing reduced, affordable rates under the HHC Options Program.

In order to help determine whether uninsured patients are eligible for Medicaid and other available insurance programs, HHC financial counseling staff must ask patients for certain information that may include immigration status, proof of income, home address and date of birth. This information is kept completely confidential. HHC does not compile records or lists of undocumented immigrants nor does it share individual patient information with immigration authorities.

“Despite our present fiscal challenges and the further challenges ahead as healthcare reform unfolds, HHC will continue to serve as the city’s primary healthcare safety net, offering needed medical services to all New Yorkers including immigrants and fulfilling an essential role in maintaining the overall public health in our diverse city,” Aviles said.

HHC patients speak more than 100 different languages it has a diverse patient population. HHC also has a very diverse staff — more than 80% represent communities of color — and many speak multiple languages.

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